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M I CHAEL | £1 M I \ 

The sixth volume of The New Cambridge Medieval History covers the 
fourteenth century, a period dominated by plague, other natural dis- 
asters and war which brought to an end three centuries of economic 
growth and cultural expansion in Christian Europe, but one which also 
saw important developments in government, changes of emphasis 
and concern in religious and intellectual life, giving greater weight to 
the voice of the laity, and new cultural and artistic patterns, not least 
with the rise of vernacular literature. 

The volume is divided into four sections. Part I sets the scene by dis- 
cussion of general themes in the theory and practice of government, 
religion, social and economic history, and culture, including discus- 
sions of art, architecture and chivalry. Part II deals with the individual 
histories of the states of western Europe; part III with the Church at 
the time of the Avignon papacy and the Great Schism; and part IV 
with eastern and northern Europe, Byzantium and the early Ottomans, 
giving particular attention to the social and economic relations with 
westerners and those of other civilisations in the Mediterranean. 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 

The New Cambridge Medieval History 


David Abulafia Rosamond McKitterick 
Martin Brett Edward Powell 
Simon Keynes Jonathan Shepard 
Peter Linehan Peter Spufford 

Volume vi c. 1300 —c. 1415 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 

St Louis of Toulouse crowning Robert of Anjou, by Simone Martini ( c . 1284—1344), 
Naples, Museo nazionale di Capodimonte 

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1 1 blume TV c. 1300— c. 141J 



Professor of Medieval French History 
University of Nottingham 

!gj Cambridge 


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Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, Sao Paulo 

Cambridge University Press 
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge cb 2 2RU, UK 

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York 

Information on this title: 362900 

© Cambridge University Press 2000 

This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception 
and to the provisionsof relevant collective licensing agreements, 
no reproduction of any part may take place without 
the written permission of Cambridge University Press. 

First published 2000 
Reprinted 2006 

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge 

A. catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library 

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data 

ISBN- 1 3 978-0-521-36290-0 paperback 
ISBN- 10 0-521-36290-3 hardback 

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs 
for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this book, and does not guarantee 
that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate. 

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List of plates page xi 

List of figures xiv 

hist of maps xv 

List of genealogical tables xvi 

List of contributors xvii 

Preface xix 

Acknowledgements xxii 

List of abbreviations xxiii 


1 Introduction 3 


2 The theory and practice of government in western Europe 

in the fourteenth century 1 7 


3 Currents of religious thought and expression 42 


4 The universities 66 


5 Rural society 82 


6 Urban life 102 


7 Plague and family life 1 24 



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8 Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 1 5 5 


9 Chivalry and the aristocracy 209 


10 Court patronage and international Godiic 222 


11 Architecture 234 


1 2 Literature in Italian, French and English: uses and muses of die 

vernacular 257 



13 The British Isles 

(a) England: Edward II and Edward III 273 


(b) The reign of Richard II 297 


(c) Wales 334 


(d) Fourteenth-century Scodand 345 


(e) Ireland 375 


14 France 

(a) The last Capetians and early Valois kings, 1314-1364 388 


(b) France under Charles V and Charles VI 422 


1 5 Italy in the age of Dante and Petrarch 

(a) The Italian north 442 


(b) Florence and the republican tradition 469 


(c) The Italian south 488 


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1 6 The empire 

(a) From Adolf of Nassau to Lewis of Bavaria, 1292-1347 515 


(b) The Luxemburgs and Rupert of the Palatinate, 1347— 1410 5 51 


17 The Low Countries, 1290— 141 5 570 


1 8 The Iberian Peninsula 

(a) The Crown of Aragon 595 


(b) Castile, Navarre and Portugal 619 



19 The Avignon papacy 653 


20 The Great Schism 674 



21 Baltic Europe 699 


22 The kingdoms of central Europe in the fourteenth century 735 


23 The principalities of Rus' in the fourteenth century 764 


24 The Byzantine empire in the fourteenth century 795 


25 Latins in the Aegean and the Balkans in the fourteenth century 825 


26 The rise of the Ottomans 839 


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27 Christians and Muslims in die eastern Mediterranean 864 


Appendix: genealogical tables 8 8 5 

Primary sources and secondary works arranged by chapter 89 5 

Index 1077 

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St Louis of Toulouse crowning Robert of Anjou, by Simone Martini 
(c. 1284-1344), Naples, Museo nazionale di Capodimonte 

between pages 00 and 00 

1 Ely Cathedral, Lady Chapel, 1321 —c. 1349, looking east 
(Woodmans terne) 

2 Avignon, Palais des Papes, Chambre du Cerf, executed under Pope 
Clement VI (1342-52) (Giraudon, Paris) 

3 Assisi, San Francesco, lower church, showing frescos by Cimabue (far 
left), workshop of Giotto (crossing vault) and Pietro Lorenzetti 
(opposite transept); Simone worked in chapel off the nave 

4 Simone Martini, The Holy Family , signed and dated 1342, executed at 
Avignon; the subject-matter, Christ’s defiance of his earthly parents, is 
almost unique in western art (Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery) 

5 Palazzo Pubblico, Siena: Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory of Good 

6 The Hours of Queen Jeanne d’Evreux of France, illuminated by Jean 
Pucelle, c. 1325-8, fols. i5v-i6r, The Arrest of Christ and the Annunciation 
(The Cloisters Museum, New York) 

7 Karlstein Castle, Prague, interior decorations of Emperor Charles IV’s 
private chapel dedicated to St Catherine; the painted niche is Italian in 
style, the altar frontal Bohemian 

8 Coronation Book of Charles V of France (1365), the king receives the 
kiss of his peers (British Library, Cotton MS Tiberius B vm fol. 64r) 

9 Fragments of murals from St Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster, 1350—63, 
showing Old Testament stories; the scheme of paintings shows Italian, 
French and Flemish influence (British Museum) 

10 The Wilton Diptych, c. 1395 (National Gallery, London) 


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xii hist of plates 

1 1 Strozzi altarpiece in Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Orcagna workshop, 
Triumph of Death (detail), 1350s 

12 February, from the Tres Riches Heures of John, duke of Berry, 1413-16, 
fol. 2v (Musee Conde, Chantilly) (Giraudon, Paris) 

13 Prophet from the Moses fountain, Chartreuse de Champmol, Dijon, by 
Claus Sluter, 1395—1403 

14 Angers Apocalypse tapestries, illustration of Revelation 8:10-1 1, the 
star wormwood, made in die 1370s for Louis I, duke of Anjou (Angers, 
Musees des Tapisseries) (Giraudon, Paris) 

1 5 Portrait of King John II of France, c. 1350 (The Louvre, Paris) 

16 Cadaver effigy, detail from the tomb of Cardinaljean de Lagrange 
(d. 1402), Saint-Martial, Avignon 

17 St Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster Palace, begun 1 292, interior elevation 
of die north side of the eastern bay of the upper chapel (drawing by 
Richard Dixon, c. 1800, Courtauld Institute) 

1 8 Gloucester Cathedral, choir looking east, begun c. 1337 (Photo: 
Christopher Wilson) 

19 Marienburg (Malbork), castle of the Teutonic Knights, from the west, 
the High Castle (begun before 1280) to die right, the grand master’s 
Palace (begun c. 1330) to the left (Bildarchiv. Foto Marburg) 

20 Westminster Hall, 1391— 1401, interior (A.F. Kersting) 

21 Liibeck, St Mary, choir begun 1 277 (Jutta Briidern, Brunswick) 

22 Bruges, town hall, c. 1377-87 

2 3 Florence, Palazzo Vecchio, 1 299-1 3 1 5 , view from north-west, with the 
Loggia dei Lanzi (1376-r. 1381) on the right (Alinari) 

24 Florence, Giotto’s Campanile, begun c. 13 34 ( Courtauld Institute) 

25 Toulouse, Dominican (so-called Jacobin) church, begun 1229, 
completed 1390, interior looking north-east 

26 Ely Cathedral, octagon and lantern, 1322-40 (Christopher Wilson) 

27 Gloucester cathedral, fan vaults in die east walk of the cloister, 
c. 1351-64 (Christopher Wilson) 

28 Oxford, New College, 1379-86, view from the west (Loggan 
print 1675) 

29 Hull, Holy Trinity church, choir interior, looking east, c. 1320s and later 
(Christopher Wilson) 

30 Mehun-sur-Yevre Casde, begun 1367, view from the north (from a 
miniature by the Limburg brothers in die Tres Riches Heures of John, 
duke of Berry, 1413-16 (Musee Conde, Chantilly) (Giraudon, Paris) 

3 1 Cologne Cathedral, west facade, designed c. 1300-10: die two lowest 
storeys of the south-west tower c. 13 10 - early fifteendi century; the 
lowest parts of the nordi-west tower fifteenth century; the remainder 

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List of plates 


constructed 1842-80 according to die surviving medieval Plan F (Helga 
Schmidt-Glassner, Stuttgart) 

32 Prague Cathedral, 1344-85, interior of the choir (Werner Neumeister, 

3 3 Schwabisch Gmiind, Holy Cross church, interior of the nave and choir, 
looking east (Helga Schmidt-Glassner, Stuttgart) 

34 Barcelona Cathedral, begun 1 298, interior looking north-east (Mas, 

35 Palma de Mallorca Cathedral, begun 1306, interior looking east (Mas, 

36 Milan Cathedral, exterior of choir looking west, begun 1386 (Mansell, 

37 Orvieto Cathedral, nave exterior from north-west, begun 1290, facade 
begun 1 3 1 o by Lorenzo Maitani (Alinari) 

38 Florence, S. Croce, interior looking east, begun in c. 1 292 (Alinari) 

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1 Plan of Chapter House, Marienburg (Malbork), castle of the 

Teutonic Knights, c. 1330 page 236 

2 Karlstein (Karlstejn) Castle, begun 1348, complete by 1367 236 

3 Plan of Vincennes, begun in 1361 237 

4 Ulm Minster, Plan A for the west tower by Ulrich von Ensingen, 

c. 1392 (Stadtarchiv Ulm, I) 240 

5 Wells Cathedral, plan of the choir, retrochoir and lady chapel, 

c. 1322 —c. 1340 246 

6 Strasbourg Cathedral, Plan B, 1275-7; redrawing of the original 

plan by Dehio-Bezold 249 

7 Prague Cathedral, ground plan, by Matthias of Arras 

(active 1344-52) (black sections) and Peter Parler (active 1356-99) 

(grey sections) 251 

8 Plan of Florence Cathedral, begun 1294, present nave 1357-78, 

walls of octagon 1377— 1421 25 5 


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Universities active in 1300 

page 68 


University foundations, 1300—1400 



Universities active in 1400 

7 ° 


Europe’s trade, c. 1300 



Europe’s trade, c. 1400 



Scotland in the fourteenth century 



The Hundred Years War to 1360 



France in 1360 



The Hundred Years War, 1360-96 



The Iberian peninsula 


1 1 

Baltic Europe in tire fourteenth century 



The Grand Duchy of Lithuania 



Prussia in tire late fourteenth century 

7 H 

i 4 

Livonia in tire fourteenth century 



Russia, c. 1396 



The Byzantine empire during tire reign of Michael VIII 


i 7 

The Byzantine empire in the 1340s 



The Aegean world 



Anatolia and the Balkans, c. 1350 



The Ottoman state, c. 1400 

85 5 


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1 The royal family in die reign of Richard II page 886 

2 The later Capetians and early Valois kings of France 887 

3 The Gediminid Grand Dukes of Lithuania in die fourteenth century 888 

4 The northern monarchies: die descent of Eric of Pomerania 890 

5 The house of Luxemburg 891 

6 The house of Anjou in Hungary and Naples 892 

7 Daniilovich grand princes of Moscow 894 


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david abulafia: Reader in Mediterranean History, University of 
Cambridge, and Fellow of Gonville and Caius College 
franchise autrand: Professor, Ecole Normale des Jeunes Filles, Paris 
michel balard: Professor, University of Paris IV 

Caroline m. barron: Reader in Medieval History, Royal Holloway and 
Bedford New College, University of London 
paul binski: University Lecturer, Cambridge, and Fellow of Gonville and 
Caius College 

a.d. carr: Professor of Welsh History, University of Wales, Bangor 
jeremy catto: Fellow of Oriel College, University of Oxford 
paul crossley: Reader, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London 
peter edbury: Reader, University of Wales, Cardiff 
alan forey: Sometime Reader in History, University of Durham 
robin frame: Professor of Medieval History, University of Durham 
paul freedman: Professor of History, Yale University 
Alexander grant: Senior Lecturer, University of Lancaster 
louis green: Professor of History, Monash University 
nick havely: Senior Lecturer, University of York 
peter lierde: Emeritus Professor of History, University of Wurzburg 
ivan hlavacek: Professor of Auxiliary Historical Sciences and 

Archivistics, Charles University, Prague 
michael jones: Professor of Medieval French History, University of 

Howard kaminsky: Professor of History, University of Florida, Miami 
maurice keen: Reader, University of Oxford, and Fellow of Balliol College 
christiane klapisch-zuber: Professor, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en 
Sciences Sociales, Paris 

nancy shields kollmann: Professor of History, Stanford University 
angeliki e. laiou: Professor, Harvard University 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 

xviii List of contributors 

john law: Senior Lecturer, University of Wales, Swansea 
jean-pierre leguay: Professor of History, University of Rouen 
peter linehan: Lecturer, University of Cambridge, and Fellow of St 
John’s College 

i. metin kunt: Faculty Member, Sabanct University, Istanbul 
Claude michaud: Professor of History, University of Paris I 
w. mark ormrod: Professor of History, University of York 
Walter prevenier: Professor of History, University of Ghent 
albert rigaudiere: Professor of History, University of Paris II 
s.c. rowell: Institute of History, Vilnius 

peter spufford: Sometime Reader in Monetary History, University of 
Cambridge, and Fellow of Queen’s College 
jacques verger: Professor of History, University of Paris II 
p.n.r. zutshi: University Archivist, University of Cambridge, Fellow of 
Corpus Christi College 

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My first vicarious experience of the tribulations and triumphs of an editor of 
a Cambridge History came as I watched my remarkable tutor, J.P. Cooper, strug- 
gling for more than ten years to bring to birth his volume The Decline of Spain 
and the Thirty Years War 1609—48/ /y (1970), in the New Cambridge Modern History. 
Perhaps I should have learnt then drat collaborative ventures call for more than 
usual editorial skills and patience, above all that they need much wielding of 
iron fists in velvet gloves, if die project is to be kept within reasonable word 
and time limits and the editor is to remain on speaking terms with contribu- 
tors who first produced dieir chapters while cajoling those still some way 
behind into making the final effort! In the circumstances although, as with 
other volumes in this series, there has been slippage in die originally proposed 
schedule, the time from conception to birdi is only just verging on the ele- 
phantine for works of this scale. It is thus with great pleasure (as well as a 
strong sense of relief) that I can now say how grateful I am to all those who 
have contributed. Particular thanks are due to those who replaced others, first 
chosen but unable to produce their chapters. Among these we may sadly note 
two fine American scholars, David Herlihy and John Boswell, both of whom 
died before they could write any part of their proposed pieces. In the case of 
the former, an ideal replacement, Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, who collabo- 
rated with Herlihy in the ground-breaking work, Les Toscans et leurs families 
(1978), willingly undertook to write in his stead, whilst at an even later stage 
Alan Forey kindly supplied a chapter on the kingdom of Aragon which 
Boswell had originally agreed to do. Another late replacement to whom I am 
immensely indebted is Stephen Rowell, who not only provides a wide-ranging 
survey of Baltic history, but also made helpful suggestions with regard to other 
chapters touching on the Slav world. It is important to add that Paul Freedman 
was an even later recruit since the eleventh hour had already struck when he 
generously agreed to write the section on rural society (for which Guy Bois had 
originally contracted), without which the section on the Economy would have 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 



been sadly inadequate. It is certainly through no fault of these scholars that I 
have to apologise here to those colleagues who so speedily and efficiendy dis- 
charged their obligations within a brief time after the launch of this volume 
only to see their chapters delayed for several years; they have been given some 
opportunity to revise their texts, though naturally some would now approach 
the task in a different fashion if asked to do so again in the light of their own 
maturer experience and continuing advances in their respective fields. An 
attempt has been made to note major additions to bibliographies compiled 
some years ago, though it has seemed best to allow them mainly to represent 
the work on which the individual chapters were then based. 

As editor of a large and international team I have been immensely encour- 
aged over die time this volume has been in production by the friendship shown 
me by busy scholars in many countries and by dieir unstinting co-operation as 
I edited dieir work for the final text. Many who were simply names to me when 
the project began, I now know much better and I am happy to acknowledge 
my debt to them. I drink it also fair to say that for many, if not all contributors, 
the challenge of condensing what in most fields has become an enormous 
modern literature of their respective subjects often proved more taxing than 
they had first imagined. Few of the chapters that follow make any claim to be 
comprehensive; all contributors have had to make invidious choices about 
what to include or exclude (some of which are explained in the Introduction 
below); all have accepted editorial guidance with remarkable patience even 
where that may have been wrong-headed. Some have chosen to annotate their 
chapters fairly extensively; others have simply provided bibliographies which 
retiect their own reading and provide guidance to some of the most useful lit- 
erature in their area. I hope that failure to standardise in this respect will be 
accepted as a reasonable compromise since I was anxious not to cram all con- 
tributors into the same procrustean mould. 

Among those without whom the volume would have been very different, 
mention may especially be made of Juliet Vale who has been responsible for 
translating chapters 2, 4, 6, 7, 14(b), 22 and 25 from French, and 16(a) from 
German, while Paula Kennedy translated 16(b) from Czech; both were metic- 
ulous in their efforts to convey the sense of the original and in ensuring that 
the appropriate conventions have been used for transliterating names of 
people, places and offices to make the chapters accessible to an English-speak- 
ing audience, performing indeed much of the work of a general editor, for 
which I am very grateful. Likewise I have received valuable assistance in pro- 
cessing the bibliographies from Claire Taylor. The help of the volume’s copy- 
editor, Linda Randall, and its indexer, David Atkins, have been invaluable in 
improving the consistency and accuracy of the text. My thanks must also go 
to fellow editors of this History , especially Rosamond McKitterick, David 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 



Abulafia and Christopher Allmand, as well as to other members of the 
Editorial Board, for their help and encouragement over the last decade. For his 
forbearance and unfailingly supportive advice and help through good days and 
bad, a special mention must be made of William Davies of the Press, whose 
‘worst-case scenario’ I hope we have just collectively avoided. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Permission to reproduce pictures and photographs of buildings or of other 
objects in their care has been acknowledged above (pp. xi-xiii); the sources of 
figures 1-8 are also acknowledged appropriately, while the genealogical tables 
have been prepared in house at the Press. We are grateful to Reginald Piggott 
for expert preparation of the maps from difficult copy and in accord with the 
sometimes exigent demands of authors. 

Finally, but by no means least, the editor would also like to place on record 
the enormous help that he has received from Dr Elizabeth Jones, latterly for 
proof-reading and stylistic suggestions, but also for support of every kind over 
many more years than even this volume has been in production. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 































Anais de Academia portuguesa da historia 
Acta Sanctorum, ed. J. BoUandus etal. 

Analecta Bollandiana 
Annales de Bretagne 

Annuaire-bulletin de la Societe de I’histoire de France 
Annales de Bourgogne 

Actes du Congres national des Societes savantes 

Annales de demographie historique 

Annales de I’Est 

Anuario de estudios medievales 

Annales: economies, societes, civilisations 

Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 

Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum 

Agricultural History Review 

Annuarium Flistoriae Conciliorum 

Anuario de historia del derecho espanol 

Archivum Flistoriae Pontificiae 

Academie des inscriptions et belles-lettres 

Annuaire de I’Institut de Philologie et d'Histoire Orientates 

Archiv \ fiir Kulturgeschichte 

Archiv fiir Literatur- und Kirchengeschichte des Mittelalters 

American Historical Review 

Annales du Midi 

Archives nationales, Paris 

Annales de Normandie 

Anciens pays et assembles d’etat 

Acta Poloniae Historica 

Art Bulletin 

Archivio di stato di Firenze 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


List of abbreviations 


Archivio storico italiano 


Archivio storico lombardo 


Archivio di stato di Pisa 


Archivio venesyiani 


Biblioteca de autores espanoles 


British Archaeological Reports 




The Black Book of the Admiralty, ed. T. Twiss, RS, i, London 


Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 


Bulletin of the Business Historical Society 


Bulletin de la Commission royale d’histoire 


Bibliotheque de I’ecole des chartes 


Bibliotheque des ecoles fra^aises d’Athenes et de Rome 


Bulletin des estudes portugaises 


Byyantinische Forschungen 


Bijdragen tot de Geschiedenis 


Bulletin hispanique 

Bib. mun. 

Bibliotheque municipale 


Bolletino dell’Instituto di diritto romano 


Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 


Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 


British Library 


Bijdragen en Mededelingen voor de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden 


Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris 


Bulletin philologique et historique jusqu’d ijiy) 


Boletln de la Real academia de la historia 


Byyantine Studies/ Etudes byyantines 


Bulletin de la Societe des antiquaries de France 


Bolletino storico-bibliografico subalpino 


Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 


Bolletino storico pisano 


Bolletino della Societa pavese di storia patria 


Biblioteca storica toscana 


Byyantinische Zeitschrift 


Cronica de Alfonso XI, ed. C. Rosell, BAE, 66, Madrid (i 875) 


Corpus Bruxellense Historiae Byzantinae 


Collection de l’Ecole franpaise de Rome 


The Cambridge Economic History of Europe, ed. J.H. 
Clapham, M.M. Postan et al., 8 vols., Cambridge 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 

List of abbreviations 































Cronica de Enrique Ilf ed. C. Rosell, BAE, 68, Madrid 
0877 ) 

Cronica de Fernando H ( ed. C. Rosell, BAE, 66, Madrid 


Cahiers de Fanjeaux 

Cnadernos de bistoria 

Cu a demos de bistoria (de Espana) 

Congresso de bistoria de la corona de Aragon 

Congres international des etudes byyantines 

Cronica de Juan /, ed. C. Rosell, BAE, 68, Madrid (1877) 

Chronique des regnes de Jean II et de Charles V, ed. R. 

Delachenal, 4 vols., Paris (1917-20) 

Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 

Cambridge Medieval History 

Cahiers du monde russe et sovietique 

Centre national des recherches scientifiques 

Cortes de los antiguos reinos de Leony de Castilla , ed. Real 

Academia de la Historia, 1, n, Madrid (1861-3) 

Cronica de Pedro /, ed. C. Rosell, BAE, 66, Madrid (1 875) 
Pere III of Catalonia (Pedro IX 'of Aragon j Chronicle, trans. M. 
Hillgarth, with introduction and notes byJ.N. Hillgartli, 2 
vols., Toronto (1980) 

Cronicas de los reyes de Castilla desde Don Alfonso el Sabio , ed. 

E Cerda, 1, Madrid (1781) 

Commission royale d’histoire 

Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byyantinae, 50 vols., Berlin 

Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales 
Deutsches Archiv fur Erforschung des Mittelalters 
Ditfonario biografico degli Italiani, ed. A.M. Ghisalberti et. al., 
49 vols. continuing, Rome (1960-97) 

Dukhovnye i dogovornye gramoty velikikh i udel'nykh kniayei 
XIX —XXTvv, Moscow and Leningrad (1950) 

Dumbarton Oaks Papers 
Downside Review 

Dante Alighieri, De vulgari eloquentia, ed. A. Marigo, 3rd 
edn, Florence (1957) 

Diplomatarium X'eneto-Eevantinum, 1 : iqoo—ijfo; 11 : ijgi—iqgq, 
ed. G.M. Thomas, Venice (1880-99) 

Etudes balkaniques 
Economic History Review 

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List of abbreviations 


Early English Text Society 


Etudes historiques hongroises 


English Historical Review 


Etudes orientales 


Jean Froissart, Chroniques, ed. S. Luce etal., 1 5 vols. 
continuing, Paris (1869-1975) 


French Historical Studies 


Forschungen \ m osteuropdischen Geschichte 


Franyiskanische Studien 


Gesammelte Zhfsdtye yur Kulturgeschichte Spaniens 


Gazette des beaux arts 


M. Flayez (ed.), Genese et debuts du grand schisme dl Occident, 
Paris (1980) 


Geschichte und Gesellschaft 

Gli Scaligeri 

G.M. Varanini (ed.), Gli Scaligeri, Verona (1988) 

GP, ed. Failler 

George Pachymeres, Relations historiques, ed. A. Failler, 2 
vols., Paris (1984) 

GP, ed. Bekkerus 

George Pachymeres, De Michaele etAndronico Palaeologis 
Libri Tredecim, ed. I. Bekkerus, 2 vols., Paris (185 5-7) 


Nicephorus Gregoras, Byyantina Historia, 1— in, ed. L. 
Schopen and 1 . Bekker, CSHB, Bonn (1829—5 5) 


Historia de Espana, general ed. R. Menedez Pidal, 1 8 vols., 
Madrid (1957-90) 


Geoffrey Chaucer, The House of Fame 


Hansische Geschichtsbldtter 


Historia. Instituciones. Documentos. 


Historisches Jahrbuch 


Cl. Devic andj. Vaissete, Histoire generale de Languedoc, ed. 
A. Molinier et al., 16 vols, Toulouse (1872-1904) 


Handelingen van de Maatschappij voor Geschiedenis en 
Oudheidkunde van Gent 


Historical Research 


History Today 


Harvard Ukrainian Studies 


Historische Zeitschrift 


Index Actorum Romanorum Pontificum ab Innocenti III 
ad Martinum V Electum 

IC, Hist. 

Ioannis Cantacuzeni, Eximperatoris Historiarum Libri IX \ 
ed. L. Schopen, 3 vols., CSHB, Bonn (1828-32) 


Irish Economic and Social History 


E information historique 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 







































List of abbreviations xxvii 

Irish Historical Studies 
International Journal of Turkish Studies 
Italia medievale e umanistica 
Istoricheskie yapiski 

Journal of the British Archaeological Association 

Journal of Baltic Studies 

Journal of British Studies 

Journal of European Economic History 

Journal of Ecclesiastical History 

J. and P. Zepos (eds ),Jus Graecoromanum, i, Athens 

to? 1 ) 

Jahrbuch fur Geschichte des Feudalismus 

Jahrbiicher fur Geschichte Osteuropas 

Journal of the History of Ideas 

Journal of the History of Philosoply 

Journal of Interdisciplinary History 

Journal of Italian History 

Journal of Medieval History 

Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 

Jahrbuch der Osterreichischen Byyantinistik 

Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 

Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 

Journal des Savants 

Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 

Journal of Theological Studies 

Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 

Journal of World History 

Jeronimo Zurita. Cuadernos de Historia 

Kirchengeschichtliche Quellen und Studien 

London Journal 

Lusitania Sacra 

Ee moyen age 

Melanges de archeologie et d’histoire publies par lEcok franyaise de 

Melanges de la casa de Velasycquefy 

Middle English Dictionary , general ed. Hans Kurath, 1 1 
vols. (continuing), Ann Arbor (1956- ) 

Melanges de FEcole franyaise de Rome 
Monumenta Germaniae Historica 
Mediaevalia et Humanistica 
Mediterranean History Review 

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List of abbreviations 


Mitteilungen des Instituts fur osterreichische 


Medelingen van de Koninklijkse l laamse Academie 


J.-P. Migne, Patrologia e Cursus Completus, Series Graeca, 161 
vols., Paris (1857-66) 


Mediaeval Studies 


Memoires de la Societe d’bistoire et d’ archeologie de Bretagne 


Memoires de la Societe de I’histoire de Paris et de I’lk de France 


(Nuovo) Archivio veneto 


New Cambridge Medieval History 


Nottingham Medieval Studies 


Nouvelle revue historique de droit franfais et etranger 


Nuova rivista storica 


Orientalia Christiana Analecta 


Orientalia Christiana Periodica 


Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, 3 vols., Oxford (1991) 


Order of Augustinian Canons 


Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans) 


Ordines Militares. Colloquia Torunensia Historica 


Order of Friars Preacher (Dominicans) 


Oxford Slavonic Papers 


Las Siete Partidas, ed. Real Academia de la Historia, 3 vols., 
Madrid (1807; repr. 1972) 


Proceedings of the British Academy 


Papers of the British School at Rome 


Parliaments, Estates and Respresentation 


Ranulph Higden, Polychronicon, ed. C. Babington and J.R. 


Past <& Present 


William Langland, Piers Plowman by William Langland: An 
Edition of the C-Text , ed. D.A. Pearsall, London (1978) 


Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 


Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 


Public Record Office 


Population Studies 


Positions des theses de lEcok des chartes 


Preussisches Urkundenbuch, ed. M. Hein, E. Maschke, K. 
Conrad et al., 6 vols., Konigsberg and Marburg 


Quellen und Abhandlungen zur mittelrheinischen 

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List of abbreviations 



































Quellen und Darstellung zur Hansische Geschichte 

Quellen und Forschungen am italienischen Archiven und 

Quellen und Forschungen aus dem Gebiet der 

Quellen und Studien zur baltischen Geschichte 
Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Deutschen 

Real academia de la historia 
Revue Beige de philologie et d’histoire 
Revue des etudes by^antines 
Revue des etudes grecques 
Romanische Forschungen 
Revue historique 

Revue historique de droit jran^ais et etranger 

Revue d’histoire ecclesiastique 

Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France 

Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, ed. L.A. Muratori, 25 vols., 

Milan (1723-51); new edn G. Carducci and V Fiorini, 

Citta di Castello and Bologna (1900— ) 

Revue des langues romanes 
Revue du moyen age Latin 
Revue du Nord 
Revista portuguesa de historia 

Registres du tresor des chartes, in: Regne de Philippe de l r alois , pt 
1 : JJ 6;A a 6% ed. J. Viard, Aline Vallee and J. Favier, Paris 
0978 ) 

Romische Quartalschrft 
Revue des questions historiques 
Renaissance Quarterly 
Rolls Series 

Rivista di storia della chiesa in Italia 
Revue des sciences humaines 
Recueils de la Societe Jean Bodin 
Renaissance Studies 
Russian History 
Studia etActa Orientalia 
Studia Bygantina 
Studies in Church History 

S.B. Chrimes and A.L. Brown, Select Documents of English 
Constitutional History 1307—148;, London (1964) 

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List of abbreviations 


Slavonic and East European Review 


S ii dost Forschungen 


Spanische Forschungen der Gorresgesellschaft 


Studia Gratiana 


Studia Hibernica 


Societe de l’histoire de France 


Scottish Flistorical Review 


Society of Jesus 


Scandinavian Journal of History 


Standen en Landen 


Studi Medievali 


Studien und Mitteilungen %ur Geschichte des Benediktineordens 
und seiner Ziveige 


Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought 


Slavic Review 


Scriptores Rerum Prussicarum, ed. T. Hirsch et al., 5 vols., 
Leipzig (1 861-74); repr. with a sixth vol., Frankfurt am 
Main (1965) 


Studi e Testi 


Studi venefani 


Storia di X ’enefa 


Transactions of the Fhonourable Society of Cymmrodorion 


Travaux et memoires 


Trudy Otdela drevnerusskoi literatury 


Transactions of the Royal Flistorical Society 


Unione tipografico-editrice torinese 


Vortrage und Forschungen 


Verhandlingen Koninklijke Academie voor 
Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van Belgie 


Verhandlingen van de Maatschappij voor Geschiedenis 
en Ouheidkunde van Gent 


Vatikanische Quellen zur Geschichte der papstlichen 
Hof- und Finanzverwaltung 


Xierteljahrschrift fur Social- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte 


Xlyantiiskii Xremennik 


Wege der Forschung 


Welsh History Review 


Zeitschrift fur historische Forschung 


Zeitschrift fir Kirchengeschichte 


Zeitschrift fir Rechtsgeschichte 


Zbornik Radova X l^antoloshkog Instituta 

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Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 



Michael Jones 

this volume replaces the seventh volume of the Cambridge Medieval History, 
which was seen through the press in 1932 by C.W Previte-Orton and Z.N. 
Brooke. 1 That volume, sub tided Decline of the Empire and Papacy, dealt with 
‘roughly speaking, the fourteenth century’, though that was interpreted gener- 
ously — from 1252 in the case of Spain, and from c. 1270 in the accounts of 
England, France and Germany, while terminal dates for some chapters ran well 
into the fifteenth century. Moreover, in a significant proportion of the volume, 
especially in thematic chapters devoted to the Jews, medieval estates, peasant 
life, the early Renaissance and medieval mysticism, discussion was set in a 
broader context, often covering the whole period from 1100 to 1500, with a 
consequent diminution of specific information on the characteristics of the 
fourteenth century itself, a period recognised by all scholars, then as now, as 
amongst the most turbulent, even apocalyptic, of the entire Middle Ages or, as 
one well-informed contemporary, Filippo Villani, starkly put it, ‘this shipwreck 
of a century which is going from bad to worse’. 2 

Not that there was any lack of information in Decline of the Empire and Papacy 
in other respects: approximately three-quarters of the volume was devoted to 
traditional political history within a strong narrative framework, above all the 
deeds of popes and emperors, kings and princes, parliaments and estates. Some 
chapters can still be mined with profit although there are many new sources 
and, in most cases, a huge modern secondary literature now available to recon- 
struct the sequence of events or to reinterpret the role of individuals. It simply 
is not possible, nor is it desirable, here to attempt the same kind of detailed nar- 
rative for the whole of Europe provided there. In geographical spread, too, 
there are differences of emphasis between that volume and the present one. 

Then, whilst some notice was taken of eastern and northern Europe, with 
chapters on the Hansa, the Teutonic Order, Bohemia and Russia, the vast bulk 

1 CMH, vii, Preface. 2 Filippo Villani, De . . . Famosis Civibus , cited by McLaughlin (1988), p. 135 . 


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of the narrative concerned the heart of medieval Catholic Europe: Italy, 
France, Germany and the British Isles, with lesser attention being given to 
other regions, though it is interesting to note that the development of 
Switzerland from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries was allowed more space 
than the chapter on Spain from the mid thirteenth century to 1410. In this 
latter case there has been an especially large explosion of historical research 
since the 1930s both within Spain itself and elsewhere, particularly amongst 
Anglo-American historians. The same is true of late medieval Italy where 
native historians have been joined by armies of foreign scholars ransacking the 
rich archives of cities like Florence, Venice, Genoa and Siena as well as those 
drawn to Rome and the papacy. Indeed it is characteristic of the period in 
general that there are few fields in which research has not become more 
‘archive’ orientated in recent generations, especially since improved technical 
means for processing burgeoning quantities of historical data in whatever 
form it is presented are now so widely available both to individual scholars and 
to teams of researchers. 3 

Some areas least covered in Decline of the Empire and Papacy did, of course, 
receive modest attention elsewhere in the original Cambridge Medieval History, 
but treatment was deliberately uneven: chapters on south-eastern Europe, the 
Mediterranean world and relations with Islam were largely omitted from 
‘Decline’ and gathered together in a single volume devoted to the whole 
history of the Byzantine empire. 4 If the current volume is more coherent 
in chronological terms than its predecessor, keeping largely within the frame- 
work c. 1300— c. 141 5, it is also more comprehensive in its territorial coverage 
with eastern and northern Europe and the Mediterranean world, including 
Byzantium, the Balkans and the rise of the Ottomans, receiving significant 
attention (chapters 21-7 ). Occasionally, even wider vistas are briefly 
glimpsed: the still-overshadowing influence of the Mongols on the political 
development of the principalities of Rus' is noted (23), the cultural impact of 
the Golden Horde (seen emblematically in the allusion to the khanate in the 
adoptive name of the lord of Padua, Cangrande della Scala, d. 1328), 5 Timur 
the Lame’s defeat of Sultan Bayezid at Ankara in 1402, bringing the apparently 
inexorable rise of the Ottomans to a juddering halt (26), and the economic 
significance of markets in, and products from, the east (8, 25), not to mention 
the trajectory of the Black Death, reveal different aspects of the distant yet pal- 
pable impact of Asia on fourteenth-century Europe. 6 Whilst within 

3 Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber (1978) for a pioneering example of this trend. 

4 Soon recognised as inadequate, the original volume was subsequently revised and expanded by 

Hussey (1966— 7). 5 Below p.464. 

6 Abu-Lughod (1989) places late medieval European economic performance in a sobering world-wide 


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Christendom, the century saw a much closer symbiosis of die Mediterranean, 
North Sea and Baltic worlds, developments graphically displayed, for instance, 
in the expanding geographical knowledge revealed by makers of successive 
portolans, marine charts, as Italian and Iberian mariners established regular 
contact with the Adantic seaboard and northern Europe from around 1300 
(cf. 8). 7 

However, this addition to territorial coverage has inevitably to be made at 
die cost of sacrificing some of that depth of treatment accorded to individual 
countries in 1932. For example, Italy and Germany then claimed just under 10 
per cent and France just over 10 per cent of the available space, while Britain 
had almost 20 per cent, Wyclif and the Lollards alone getting more than that 
devoted separately to Wales, Ireland and Scodand. In the present volume only 
die British Isles gets over 10 per cent, and no other region claims more than 5 
or 6 per cent. 

Another obvious difference between Previte-Orton and Brooke’s volume 
and this one (and others in the new series) is that the proportion of narrative 
history to analytical and thematic chapters is now more equitable, resulting in 
a third of die volume being devoted to ‘General themes’ (2-12); though it is 
fair to point out diat the focus of many of these chapters is firmly centred on 
die heardands of the medieval west, above all those regions that looked to 
Rome (or Avignon) for spiritual leadership. Thus in place of Mcllwain’s 
famous survey of ‘Medieval estates’, representative institutions are here largely 
subsumed within a more general discussion of the ‘Theory and practice of 
government in western Europe’, or make their appearance as appropriate in 
chapters devoted to individual states, notably those on England, Scodand, the 
Low Countries and Spain (i3(a,b,d), 17, 18). 8 The problem in this respect is, 
as in so many others, as Albert Rigaudiere shrewdly notes, “Western Europe in 
die fourteenth century was as diverse as the states of which it was composed’, 9 
a remark that is also equally applicable to social conditions as well as political 
structures in eastern and northern Europe as chapters 21-3 demonstrate. 

While there are contemporary historians drawn to the exciting grand pano- 
ramic sweep - die recent appearance of two highly successful one-volume 
surveys of European history in its entirety shows what can be done when an 
extraordinary capacity to digest and synthesise is combined with a high degree 
of intellectual rigour, vision and organising skill 1 " — the nature of the exercise 
here is different, the scale and ambitions more modest. There are, of course, 
thought-provoking general patterns to be drawn out as the thematic chapters 

7 Mollat and La Ronciere (1984). 

8 See also Blockmans in NCMH, vii, pp. 29—64 for ‘Representation’. 9 Below, p. 17. 
10 Roberts (1996); Davies (1996). 

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illustrate but the particular continues to excite. Many chapters thus essay a 
lighter touch, one which is not so relentlessly factual but rather impressionistic 
and interpretive, though one which at the same time aims to set out any current 
historiographical disagreement in a balanced way. 

Political affairs inevitably continue to bulk large, though it is hoped that in 
most chapters where they predominate, there is also recognition of wider social 
and cultural issues. For instance, the growth of bureaucratic institutions and 
routine administrative procedures in many more advanced polities had implica- 
tions not only for die development of government, but for changing relation- 
ships between rulers, their servants and their other subjects, as well as for 
education, die spread and character of literacy, and so on (cf. 2-4, 12, 14(a), (b), 
etc.). Naturally, attention is paid to the ideology and symbolism of kingship or 
to that of republicanism in particular political contexts, alongside the claims of 
the universalist powers of empire and papacy. These latter especially affected 
the history of those geographically imprecise and fragmented regions, 
Germany and Italy, and gave rise to some of die most remarkable political trea- 
tises of the period on the nature of royal and ecclesiastical power like Marsilius 
of Padua’s Defensor Pads, so especially subversive of traditional papal views. 11 

Economic and social history was not absent from the Decline of the Empire 
and Papacy, but it is a reflection of the greater importance accorded to them in 
modern studies, diat two of the longest sections here are devoted to ‘Plague 
and family life’ (7) and ‘Trade’ (8). But there are few nominally ‘political’ chap- 
ters where social and economic matters are completely ignored. The fact diat 
many historians, even political ones, see the century as one of two halves (to 
borrow a cliche usually associated widi a popular sport), hinging on the Black 
Death, inevitably reflects their taking into account (whether to confirm or to 
deny its importance for their own special concerns) of that quite unprecedent- 
edly dramatic event, with all its multifarious resonances on which a huge liter- 
ature has developed. More generally, in comparison with the thirteenth 
century, the fourteenth witnesses an age of expansion and consolidation being 
succeeded by one of contraction and upheaval as we shall see in more detail 

Major institutional developments in the world of learning are reflected 
generally in chapter 4 on ‘The universities’, and in other chapters on particular 
regions (cf. 16(b), 21, 22) where the growth in numbers and changing 
characteristics of centres of higher learning, as well as of schools, is traced. 
The novel part of secular audiorities in encouraging these developments is 
made very evident in many instances, while the interplay between academic, 
theological and philosophical speculation, and the religious thinking and 

11 Below pp. 20 and 541. 

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spiritual practices of other ranks in society receives treatment particularly in 
chapter 3, but is also touched upon at many other points (cf. 16(b), 23, 24). 
The relations of Christians with those of other faiths or beliefs is clearly 
important in discussing many regions - most obviously, perhaps, Iberia, the 
Balkans, central and northern Europe. The breakdown of convivencia in Castile 
(18(b)), growing brutality towards die Jews (cf. 18(a)), only occasionally offset 
by signs of Christian and Jewish co-operation, as in trading partnerships in the 
eastern Mediterranean (25), and the survival or recrudescence of slavery (8, 
18(a), 21, 26) shows an increasingly intolerant side of Christendom in this 
period. The Ottomans, on the other hand, appear to have displayed a greater 
sympathy towards (or acceptance and tolerance of) religious or racial 
differences in their rise to power than has been traditionally recognised (26). 
The themes of growing ‘nationalist’ or ‘ethnic’ feelings and their character- 
istics (perhaps most famously and concretely expressed in the Declaration of 
Arbroath, 1320 ( 13 (d)), are taken up at other points too (cf. 13(0, e), 15(a), 
16(b), 22) in a century which sees major advances in both the institutions and 
ideology of states as lay powers grew in confidence and shook off ecclesiasti- 
cal restraint. 

In chapters 19 and 20, developments affecting the western Church hierarchy 
and the relations of Church and state are especially addressed from the point 
of view of the papacy and the cardinals, though ecclesiastical affairs in partic- 
ular states is also a theme properly considered elsewhere, with regard to the 
Statutes of Provisors or Praemunire or the Lollards in England (2, i3(a-b)), 
the background to Hus and his followers in Bohemia and the empire (16(b), 
22), or in the relationship of the Roman and Orthodox Churches in eastern 
Europe (23, 24), for example. As is well known, the century also saw the official 
eradication of paganism from European soil, with the agreement of Jogaila 
(Jagellon), grand duke of Lithuania, to convert to Roman Catholicism in 1386 
and to marry Jadwiga (Hedwig) ‘king’ of Poland, the culmination of an 
extended political evolution that brought a society still very primitive by 
western standards at the beginning of the century (the parallel with 
Merovingian Gaul is drawn) into full communion with Christendom (21). 

In contrast to practice in the old Cambridge Medieval History, inclusion here 
of photographic plates allows illustration of some key examples in the chap- 
ters devoted to art and architecture (10, n), where a major theme is the evolu- 
tion of various expressions of the predominating Gothic style, an 
‘international language of extraordinary formal diversity’. 12 At the same time 
the century sees some breakdown or diminution of the hegemony which 
French cultural traditions and values had exercised in this field as in so many 

12 Below p. 234 and cf. p. 222. 

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others in the previous two centuries. These changes in art and architecture can 
be well demonstrated, convincingly perhaps for the first time, from non-eccle- 
siastical evidence, especially from study of secular court art as well as that 
patronised by leading urban communities. Considerable attention is paid to 
this material evidence of princely and oligarchic patronage — manuscripts, 
paintings, tapestries, jewelry, buildings - not only in these chapters but at other 
points - notably with reference to Emperor Charles IV’s Prague, Edward Ill’s 
Windsor (‘the Versailles of its age’), Charles V of France’s Paris, Robert of 
Anjou’s Naples. But similar ideas and fashions pervade the Baltic north and 
stretch even to the urban republic of Novgorod; nor are the ‘Maecenas’ atti- 
tudes of popes like Clement VI and his immediate successors in transforming 
the townscape of Avignon overlooked (19). Less frequently recognised, 
perhaps, is a remarkable ‘renaissance’ in Byzantine culture in the first half of 
the century which also depended heavily on secular, notably imperial, patron- 
age (24). 

With regard to life in towns, the century, so often portrayed in cataclysmic 
fashion, saw an increasingly rational approach to the problems of urban living 
by many authorities with more evidence of town planning, building regula- 
tions, a concern with hygiene, water supplies and the health of townsmen 
becoming (perhaps not surprisingly in an era dominated by plague) an impor- 
tant concern of many town councils, and not just those in Italy. Defence was 
likewise a major priority for most towns and cities, a source of expenditure cer- 
tainly but also one that stimulated the growth of municipal institutions and 
brought associated social change . 13 Elsewhere among urban communities, 
besides describing growing secularism and sophistication in government, par- 
ticular attention is given to die ideology of Florence, a major industrial as well 
as cultural centre, where traditional communal values were significantly 
reshaped towards die end of the century by a new appreciation amongst die 
cultivated elite of classical concepts of republican liberty, an essential stage in 
the emergence of ‘Renaissance’ ideas and ideals (15(b)). 

If emphasis in chapter 12 on burgeoning Italian, French and English litera- 
ture, one sign of the Renaissance to come, is on some of the key figures — 
Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Machaut, Deschamps, Chaucer - in the rise of 
vernacular writing in Europe (one of the very distinctive cultural achievements 
of die century), and on contemporary debate over concepts concerning 
‘authors’ or ‘poets’, the work of other writers (academic, polemical, imagina- 
tive, historical, didactic, descriptive), including diat of the first humanists, is 
drawn upon at many other points. While die wider political, social and literary 
significance of vernacular languages to individual ‘states’ or ‘polities’ is a theme 

13 Below pp. 1 17— 1 8 (6), and cf. Contamine (1978); Rigaudiere (1993), pp. 417—97. 

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which recurs in several chapters not only in those relating to the ‘heartlands’ 
of western Europe but also to areas well beyond: for instance, in Bohemia 
(16(b), 22), in the Baltic (21), as well as in the Slav, Orthodox and Byzantine 
worlds (23, 24). For private individuals too, as Caroline Barron remarks, by the 
end of die century the vernacular, allied to die spread of literacy, also some- 
times allows us to hear ordinary people’s voices, including those of women 
( 13 (b)). 

All contributors have been under tight constraints with regard to space; 
difficult compromises have had to be made over content. Some overlap 
between individual chapters is inevitable when the same theme or political cir- 
cumstances have to be sketched from different angles, though every effort has 
been made to keep repetition to a minimum. In practice, it was pleasing to 
note how modest such duplication was in the original draft chapters received 
by the editor, thanks to the co-operation of colleagues and the exchange of 
ideas and plans before chapters were written. Where overlap has been allowed 
to remain, this is normally because it is felt diat the differing perspectives 
of the respective authors complement each other. Overall, die general aim 
has been to summarise the best of recent research and critical thinking rather 
than to provide a comprehensive account of the ever-increasing secondary 

A principal consequence of this has been, as already noted, to emphasise the 
diversity and particularity of experience across Europe. Another, incidental, 
one is to make a general editor cautious about making sweeping or lofty state- 
ments that have general applicability, because ( pace the Introduction to Decline 
of the Empire and Papacy ) it is very evident how such views so easily date and 
reflect our blind spots and misconceptions in understanding the past. Such 
caution is further encouraged since we are dealing with a century which in 
some respects has no obvious parallel in recorded European history. This is 
perhaps clearest in demographic terms. 

The loss within three or four years, from 1347 to 1351, of at least a third of 
die population (and in some regions the figure is much higher), followed by a 
period of a hundred years or more in which the total continued to fall in most 
parts of Europe by another third, resulted in an unprecedented regression of 
human population, by as much as two-thirds or even more, in most econom- 
ically developed regions. Where there had been three people in 1300, by 1450 
diere was usually only one, though as Christiane Klapisch-Zuber points out, 
die late fourteenth century did witness a marked recovery from the mid- 
century trough (7); it was the return of plague and war in the early fifteenth 
century that once more reversed diis upward trend, intensifying and pro- 
longing the late medieval demographic crisis, ensuring its unique and enduring 

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character. 14 Many of these facts were known (or at least suspected) in 1932, 
even if Previte-Orton and other contributors were not sure what kind of 
weighting to give to the impact of the Black Death in other spheres, a situa- 
tion that in some respects, though for very different reasons, still obtains today 
despite our immensely more detailed knowledge of demographic patterns, the 
range of diseases and rates of fertility, nuptiality and mortality prevalent in the 
late Middle Ages (cf. 7 especially). There is certainly no lack of information 
now available on these matters for most regions (only a few authors are unable 
to advance broad estimates because of a dearth of appropriate evidence), 15 
much debated and uneven though many statistical findings remain. Without 
quite becoming a leitmotif, it is nevertheless true that few authors in this 
volume ignore the practical or psychological implications of the Black Death 
and its recurrences, whether dealing with political, social, economic or financial 
matters, or even considering cultural ones. The contrast may be crudely high- 
lighted simply by comparing the handful of references for ‘Black Death’ and 
‘Plague’ in the index of Decline of the En/pire and Papacy with the substantial 
comparable entries for them in this volume. 

It is easy to see how other significant omissions or emphases in the 1932 
volume reflect the expectations and concerns of that generation and how fash- 
ions in historical research have changed in die interim: the relatively modest 
contribution of economic and social history and of cultural and intellectual 
matters, which perhaps made up at most 10 per cent of that earlier book, 
underlines how diplomacy, warfare, constitutional developments and changes 
in state administration and institutions were the predominant, even obligatory, 
themes. In turn, they were set within an already old-fashioned and procrustean 
framework of assumptions - an all-embracing but ill-defined ‘feudal mould’ - 
which despite die evidence of change and development still appeared to the 
principal editor to leave tilings at the end of the century very much where diey 
were at die start. His overall assessment was deeply pessimistic: it is perhaps 
no coincidence diat Huizinga’s influential Waning of the Middle Ages had 
appeared in English translation in 1 924. 16 Thus in the fourteenth century, there 
was allegedly ‘a decadence, not so much retrogression, but that ossifying of 
regnant ideas which are slowly losing their vitality’, a characterisation which 
finds some echoes, though with very different nuances, in Sir Richard 
Southern’s recent magisterial description of the transformation of scholastic 
humanism by 1320. 17 As is pointed out below, it is not so much a case of the 
‘decline of scholasticism’ in a time of vigorous intellectual debate but rather a 

14 Below pp. 133 and 135; Jones (1 994) for a brief summary of work on the recovery in France in the 
latter part of the fourteenth century. 

15 Below p. 821 for cautious comment on the effects of the Black Death in Byzantium and p. 750 for a 

sanguine view of its impact in Poland. 16 Huizinga (1924). 17 Southern (1995). 

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1 1 

shift of interest to questions of morality and the role of the individual that 
characterises much academic discussion at this point. 18 More generally in relig- 
ion, fourteenth-century monasticism was dismissed in 1932 as ‘static’ and the 
friars as in decline; the ideals of crusading were deemed ‘obsolescent’, the mil- 
itary orders negligent, too wrapped up in mundane matters, and die only area 
of spirituality which showed originality and promise for the future was mysti- 
cism, ‘the immediate search of die individual soul for God’. 19 

There is, of course, more than a grain of truth in such views, but as chap- 
ters 3 and 4 particularly show, a more positive assessment can be made of the 
processes and nature of change which affect all human institutions and organ- 
isations with the passage of time. There were many new beginnings as well as 
die decay of the old in die fourteenth century. We are now much better 
informed on die thought patterns, behaviour and practice of people in this 
period at all levels of society and these reveal rich and rewarding seams of 
human activity, experience and achievement that were significant in their own 
day and have a lasting importance for all those interested in the European past. 
To cite a couple of examples only, Jeremy Catto highlights aspects of improv- 
ing pastoral care in this period, while the encouragement of personal paths to 
salvation through the use of a growing and original body of contemplative lit- 
erature is one of the most original religious achievements of the century (3). 

The same is true in secular affairs. If chivalry ‘had become conventional and 
showy, a “gilded pale” to keep the vulgar out which too frequently hedged 
round the vulgar within’ and the ‘feudal age moves slowly towards its setting’, 20 
as chapters 9 and 10 demonstrate, there was also a creative, adaptable side to 
chivalry that had implications for developments elsewhere than simply in the 
circles of court or castle. More general discussion of the ‘art of war’ in the later 
Middle Ages has been assigned to volume VII of this series, 21 but attention can 
be drawn here to the significance of links between the theory and laws of war 
and the practice of chivalry, not merely with regard to their application in the 
great conflicts of the age, notably the Hundred Years War with all its many 
ramifications, but to the role of war in general as a stimulant to change in many 
fields during the century. 

This is seen most obviously in the institutional, administrative and financial 
developments prompted by war (for instance, the establishment in advanced 
polities of innovative and regular taxation especially, with all the social conse- 
quences that flowed from that during this period). But there was also some 
limited technological progress. For example, there was the spread of gunpow- 
der artillery, slowly from the 1320s, more rapidly after 1370 and, by 1400, 

18 Below pp. 43—4 and 55. 19 CMH, vii, p. xx. 20 Ibid., p. xvii. 

21 Allmand in NCMH , vii, pp. 161—74. 

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I 2 

modest architectural adaptations to meet the new threats posed by cannon, as 
well as the evolution of new tactics on the battlefield itself, thanks above all to 
the massed use of the long bow. 22 Everywhere the costs of war were escalat- 
ing, losses of men and materiel could be severe, even before manpower was 
reduced from the mid century by plague, an exception apparently being the 
battle of Tannenberg between the Teutonic Order and the Polno-Lithuanian 
state in 1410 when massive forces were involved. 23 If recruitment of troops by 
traditional feudal means was not completely superseded by new methods in 
even die most advanced states during diis period, neverdieless in this respect 
also die practice of warfare was rapidly evolving. The omnipresence of war in 
the fourteenth century is one of the darkest but most evident hallmarks of this 
volume whether it is great international confiicts, civil wars or crusades against 
the Moors in Spain, Ottomans in the Balkans or pagans in the Baltic, where the 
events of 1386 did not automatically nor suddenly bring die activities of the 
Teutonic knights and dieir western confreres to an end. At the same time, 
modern historians of the later crusades now assess in a more positive and sym- 
pathetic fashion crusading efforts and achievements during this period as chap- 
ters 9, 19 and 27 especially show. 

In political affairs, there were similar forlorn and negative judgements of die 
fourteenth century in 1932: ‘the novel ferment in diese creations [i.e. early 
bureaucratic and administrative developments, especially geared to furnishing 
war needs] strained, but did not break the feudal mould. . . . The century ends 
with Church and Feudalism and the accepted philosophy of life standing 
where they did’ (pp. vii-viii), ‘the fourteenth century [was] only die commence- 
ment of a transitional age’ (p. xx). Despite the ‘striving and stirring’ of the 
century, especially in die great revolts and rebellions of maritime Flanders 
(1323-8), the Jacquerie in France (1358), Ciompi in Florence (1378) and 
Peasants in England (1381), ‘the tide rose . . . against feudalised chivalric 
monarchy and its hide-bound bureaucratic instruments’ only to be ‘repelled’ 
(p. xi). Though there was some acknowledgement that the Hundred Years War 
and Black Death ‘hastened incipient decay and stimulated natural growth’ and 
some ‘harbingers appear of the Renaissance and even very dimly of modern 
times’, the general mood was bleak indeed. 

Many of these judgements are reformulated in what follows. The passage 
from ‘feudal’ forms of government to those of ‘modern times’, even if only 
‘dimly’ perceived in Previte-Orton’s account, finds confirmation in die consid- 
erable attention that has recendy been paid to die critical period c. 1280-1360 in 
the search for die origins of the ‘early modern state’ in modern historiography. 24 

22 Contamine (1984); Allmand (1988); Prestwich (1996). 23 Below p. 755- 

24 Genet (1990); Blockmans and Genet (1993). 

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If England and France were once seen as ‘die most advanced of feudal 
monarchies’ in this period, die perspective has largely shifted to analyse die way 
in which notions of sovereignty, based on a renewed study of Roman law in 
France and Naples in particular, changed die nature of royal power from die late 
diirteendi century and provided kings, princes and dieir advisers, at least in 
western Europe, with powerful new conceptual tools to enforce their author- 
ity . 25 Radier dian simply seeing the fourteenth century as die tail-end of an earlier 
‘feudal’ age, it is now usually and surely more correctiy envisaged as a formative 
stage in a longer continuum in die advance of governmental practice extending 
into the early modern period. In turn, these developments, especially by pro- 
moting social change through allowing the emergence of professional elites, 
lawyers, financial advisers, bureaucrats and so on, who made diemselves indis- 
pensable to their rulers by staffing die essential institutions of state (courts, /wr/e- 
ments, exchequers, chambres des comptes, secretarial and conciliar positions) and 
obtained a secure social place for diemselves, gave form to a period which cer- 
tainly lasted in many parts of the continent well into the seventeendi century, if 
not to die end of die ancien regime itself . 26 

At the same time, the remarkable ability of the old ‘feudal’ nobility to adapt 
to changing circumstances is anodier characteristic which has been much 
studied recently (cf. 9, 14(b), 22); like chivalry, ‘feudalism’ took a long time to 
die and, if anything, diis period sees die nobility in many parts of die conti- 
nent reinforcing their social and political superiority despite occasional set- 
backs or crises in their political or economic fortunes; certainly the ideals of 
‘nobility’ exercised a continuing fascination as ‘a focus for social aspiration’ for 
other groups in society . 27 Or take the shifting social relationships of towns- 
men, movements once summed up in blanket-descriptions of the ‘rise of the 
bourgeoisie’ or ‘the growth of democracy’. Here too closer analysis has 
revealed die many cross-currents and clashing interests that complicated urban 
politics, fragmenting as well as uniting families, crafts, guilds and other corpo- 
rate bodies in every town and city, creating patterns which cannot easily be 
resumed in simple catchphrases. Among the ‘rising bourgeoisie’, for instance, 
there were winners and losers: in some towns oligarchic rule was strengthened, 
in odiers there was a widening of die franchise, whilst the experience of town 
life in nordiern Italy or Flanders, the Rhineland or southern Germany, the 
regions most heavily urbanised, contrasted sharply both widi each other as well 
as with municipal structures and society elsewhere, in Iberia under Christian 
or Moorish rule, in the Balkans under the Ottomans, or in nordiern and 

25 Below pp. 25—9; Ullmann (1949); for recent consideration of these developments see Coulet and 
Genet (1990). 26 See Jones in Bulst, Descimon and Guerreau (1996). 

27 Below, especially pp. 218—21, 431—5, and cf. Contamine in NCMH , vii, pp. 89—105. 

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eastern Europe where in some parts likewise ‘oriental’ patterns of urban 
structure existed. 28 

It is sobering for western European historians of this period to be reminded 
of the scale of Byzantine wealth, at least at the beginning of the century when 
Constantinople and Thessaloniki both had populations of c. 100,000 and 
when, in 1321, Emperor Andronikos II could collect 1,000,000 gold coins in 
tax (a sum representing only a seventh of what Michael VIII had been able to 
collect a few decades before!) (24) . Peter Spufford similarly and arrestingly con- 
trasts the relative scales of wealth and commercial dynamism of the regions 
dominated by the towns of northern Italy with those of the Hanseatic north, 
which he calculates as being at the very least five or six times greater in favour 
of the Mediterranean world in this period. 29 It is partly for this reason that 
special attention has been directed to the economic relations of Italian powers 
(notably Genoa and Venice) with Byzantium, which from the mid century wit- 
nessed the spectacular political collapse of the latter (24, 25). For in 
Mediterranean urban studies as in so many other areas there has been a 
plethora of detailed accounts of individual cities revealing differences that are 
both structural and temporal, reflecting different stages of economic and 
social development, as well as the haphazard incidence of such contingent 
factors as war, plague, famine and other natural or man-made disasters in a 
period of rapid economic change. 30 Thus recent pessimistic views of deterio- 
rating urban conditions in the post-Black Death west through much of the 
remaining Middle Ages may be contrasted with the more up-beat conclusions 
of some contributors here dealing with central, eastern and northern 
European towns after the mid-century crisis (16(b), 21-3). 

As for another contemporary historiographic concern, the part played by 
women in medieval society, it is a crude measure that of nearly five hundred 
chapter subtitles, which acted as a rough index to die themes treated in Decline 
of the Empire and Papacy, less than ten specifically mention women in general or 
a particular woman, and of those, four appear in die chapter on medieval mys- 
ticism: Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich and Saints Catherine of Siena 
and Genoa. Such key figures (Hildegard apart) naturally find their place at 
appropriate points in the chapters which follow, while the role of women 
generally in fourteendi-century society is extensively discussed in the section 
on ‘Plague and family life’ (7), though they find a minor but integral place at 
other points; for example, their position in Byzantine society is surveyed. 31 Of 
those who made a significant political mark, like the queen-mother Maria de 
Molina (d. 1321) in Castile (18(b)), or the much-married Queen Joanna of 

28 Below pp. 118—23, 565—7, 778— 82; Nicholas (1997) provides a good survey of late medieval town life. 

29 Below pp. 205— 6 and 802. 30 See also Nicholas (1997). 31 Below pp. 807, 809— 10. 

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1 5 

Naples (d. 1382) (15(c)), and Margaret ‘lord of Sweden’ (21), even Princess 
Joan of Kent (13(b)), not to mention Jadwiga (Hedwig) ‘king of Poland’ (21, 
22), all warrant serious discussion. The prominent part played by royal mis- 
tresses and favourites in the political intrigues that especially wracked the 
Iberian peninsula is a characteristic of die age made abundandy clear (18(b)), 
though their influence elsewhere cannot be ignored as die example of Edward 
III and Alice Perrers shows (13(a)). It is a reminder that, at least for ‘high pol- 
itics’, individual personality and temperament is a critical factor in this period 
which it would be wrong to underestimate in explaining the course of events, 
die success or failure of rulers, dynasties or governments, however much we 
should also take impersonal economic or social forces into consideration. 32 
The promotion of dynastic interests by exploiting the family’s own members, 
Hausmacht, as Sandy Grant reminds us in the case of late fourteenth-century 
Scodand, was not simply limited to the medieval empire but is characteristic of 
most ruling families in this century (13(d)). 

Discussion of other groups who, along with women, were often largely 
overlooked by earlier historiography but who are now part of mainstream 
research — Jews, heretics, criminals, die poor (though regretfully not here the 
insane, apart from the occasional unbalanced ruler like William V of Holland 
(17) or Charles VI of France (14(b)) - is also mainly integrated into die chap- 
ters dealing with individual states rather dian given thematic treatment. The 
existence of slavery in many parts of fourteenth-century Europe has already 
been mentioned: it is found in the Mediterranean, in some Baltic states and also 
in parts of central Europe but not apparendy in Novgorod. 33 And, of course, 
die peasantry (already accorded a special place in 1932), who still comprised in 
most parts of the continent 90 per cent or more of the total population, are to 
be found not only in the specific discussion of western rural society (5) or their 
role in Byzantium (24), but elsewhere. Here again die diversity of legal status, 
customary laws, inheritance practices, economic fortunes or political 
significance defies easy generalisation apart from a cautious comment on the 
improvement in the living standards and conditions of many western peasants 
in the post-Black Death period, and ominous signs of the declining liberties 
and fortunes of their equivalents in nordiern and eastern Europe, where 
serfdom was to become oppressive in later centuries. 

Naturally the current volume reflects, then, as did die Decline of the Empire 
and Papacy, some contemporary historical fashions and prejudices, some arbi- 
trary choices and preferences on die part of the editor and editorial board. In 
summary, although there is still much political narrative, which forms die core 

32 See below pp. 316—25, 331—3 and 423—6 for the cases of Richard II of England and Charles V of 
France. 33 Below p. 781. 

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of most chapters in parts ii-iv, these are preceded by a long analytical section, 
part i, ‘General themes’, in which an attempt is made to survey some of the 
main governmental, religious, intellectual, economic, social, cultural and artis- 
tic patterns that are characteristic of the century. Music, that most difficult of 
the arts to recreate from historical evidence, amongst cultural achievements, 
gets short shrift though its echoes are occasionally heard. 34 1 am conscious that 
there are other gaps, some of which might have been plugged by better plan- 
ning: Scandinavia, among regions, perhaps fares less well than it deserves, 
Switzerland certainly does not get the attention it received in 1932, Serbia 
receives only passing mention, Bosnia, too, gets little; omissions which sad 
events, in part die still- enduring legacy of the fourteenth-century advance into 
the Balkans by the Ottomans, since the conception of the volume in 1987 
make all die more poignant. The concept of Europe itself could have received 
more discussion. 35 Among outstanding figures, too, more attention might have 
been paid to individual diinkers, writers or artists, but the time has come to 
launch the volume, so that readers may finally judge whether it accords with 
Villani’s view of the century or avoids going from ‘bad to worse’. 

34 Below p. 73 3 for the gift of a clavicord and portative organ from the grand master of the Teutonic 
Order to Grand Duchess Anna and for flautists in the service of Vytautas, Grand Duke of Lithuania 
in 1398—9. Curtis in NCMH, vn, pp. 319—3 3, discusses late medieval music at more length. 

35 See Moore (1996). 

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Albert Rigaudiere 

western Europe in the fourteenth century was as diverse as the states of 
which it was composed. It followed the rhythm of a history dictated by its capri- 
cious geography, imposed by frequently divergent traditions and which men, 
whose reflexes gradually freed themselves from feudal constraints, wrote down. 
But beyond this diversity, in the fourteenth century there was also unity; the 
medieval west was deeply rooted in a common religion and a common culture. 
Christendom and Latinity made a unified zone, even if papacy and empire still 
disputed a supremacy which the slow but sure assertion of states shattered into 
pieces. They all shared the same adventure, all reacting as Christian princes in 
the construction of their political systems. In this century, when feudalism died, 
absolute monarchy everywhere took its first steps. But still very cautiously, pro- 
pagandists, philosophers and jurists occupying a position of prime importance 
in the life of these young states, as if to devise their architecture and focus their 
birth. They thought out, each in their own way, a theory of politics (see section 
i, below) which princes, councillors and administrators slowly assimilated to 
construct a true art of government (section 2, below). 


In the fourteenth century, the desire to establish the study of politics as a 
branch of knowledge ( science ) was not new. For a long time already, all the 
distant heirs of Aristotle had set out on this path. The lawyers themselves had 
not remained outside this movement, such as the author of the Summa 
Coloniensis (1169), who even saw in the slow birth of a sciencia de regimine civitatis, 
castri etvillae seu regni etorbis (science of the government of the state, castle and 
village or of the kingdom and the world), an effective means of resolving the 
political problems of his day. Two centuries later, Nicolas d’Oresme presented 
political science as a discipline that was both noble and autonomous. Should it 


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not be considered among ‘all the fashionable branches of knowledge’, ‘as the 
very principal, the most worthy and the most profitable? And for that reason 
why not treat it as an ‘architectonic’ science, that is ‘queen over all? But, in his 
eyes, lawyers could no longer have sole control of it, as the harsh name of 
‘political idiots’ which Giles of Rome had reserved for them around 1300 
already testified. 

This is what attests to the profound evolution which the fourteenth century 
experienced in the domain of political theory and the science of government. 
Without neglecting the contribution of civil law which they assimilated per- 
fectly, philosophers, theologians and propagandists, by extending the often 
narrow field, saw to it that their reflections resulted in a true political construct 
(1.1, below). Centred on the imperial dominium mundi (world supremacy) whose 
ascendancy constandy decreased to promote the assertion of the young states 
(1.2), from the study of princely power it resulted in the theory of ministerium 
regale (1.3). 

1. 1 From learned law to political science 

Whether it was rejected or adapted, learned law dominated the whole of polit- 
ical thought in the fourteenth century. Even though it had never provided an 
exposition in the form of a complete political construct, it had always provided 
a means of access to political reflection and constituted the structural axis 
around which the statist society of the fourteenth century was built. 

At no point was it possible to disregard the models transmitted by the 
Roman law of the glossators which, having crossed the Alps at the end of the 
twelfth century, dominated all the thought of the great continental jurists in 
the following century. It was partly through them that Henry Bracton (d. c. 
1268) built his vision of common law and that, in France, in the schools of 
Toulouse, Montpellier and Orleans, the bases of an entire political system, 
shaped by Roman law slowly took root. That Jean de Blanot wrote on the 
powers of the empire in the middle of the thirteenth century, or, later, Jacques 
deRevigny(d. 1 296), Pierre de Belleperche (d. 1308) and Pierre Jacobi (d. 1350) 
endeavoured to revive an entire political system by means of Roman law, was 
not the result of chance. Bearers of an inheritance bequeathed by an empire 
which had far exceeded in size the Europe of their own day, they attempted to 
decode all its messages in order to reconstruct, around the Roman model, 
renascent states. This was why all these jurists were led, in their commentaries 
or in the consultations that they gave, to devise solutions that were always 
capable of resolving the problems of their time. 

It was above all with the school of the Postglossators that Roman law, once 
more rediscovered and the subject of commentaries, asserted its authority 

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The theory and practice of government in western Europe 1 9 

throughout the west in the first half of die fourteenth century, if not as a 
direcdy usable system, at least as a model bearing a new dynamic calculated to 
stimulate the political imagination. Leader of the new school, Bartolus 
(1314-57) dominated it with his innovatory genius. More concerned with prac- 
tice dian his predecessors, he always focused his political reflections on key 
themes. Having a presentiment of the ruin of the medieval order, he con- 
stantly wrote about the relationships between empire ( imperium ) and priest- 
hood ( sacerdotium ), examined the subde relations which were establishing 
themselves beneath his very eyes, between the monarch and the law (lot), 
denounced tyranny, unjust war and die violation of law (droit). For him, and for 
all those who followed the path he marked out, in particular Baldus 
(1327-1400), law (droit) constituted the cardinal axis of political reflection. 
Wisdom (sapientid), appropriate for encouraging an understanding of the 
divine, was also, simultaneously, both a branch of knowledge (sciencid) which 
should make it possible to master the complexity of political mechanisms and 
an art (ars), intimate knowledge of which could only foster a better practice of 

It was not only to Roman law that he attributed all these virtues. Bartolus 
adopted a similarly favourable attitude towards canon law in assigning it a task 
of the first importance in die political society of his time. At a point when 
princes everywhere were endeavouring to wididraw the Church’s right to all 
temporal influence in order to promote the birth of the state, Bartolus exer- 
cised his wits to underline the part which had devolved to it in the ordinary 
course of tilings in the construction of new state entities, even going so far as 
to assert that, in many cases Jura canonica prevalent legibus (canon laws prevail over 
other laws). This was no tiling more dian a highly normal vision of things to 
the extent that civil society and ecclesiastical society still constituted in the 
fourteenth century two parallel structures built on common bases. Whedier 
they were Italian such as Giovanni Andrea (d. 1348), in whom his contempo- 
raries saw the ‘source and trumpet of canon law’, and Panormitanus (d. 145 3, 
called lucerna juris or the light of law), or French, such as Jean le Moine (d. 1313), 
and Pierre Bertrand (d. 1349), die great canon lawyers of the fourteenth 
century, inheritors of their predecessors, made an incomparable contribution 
through their glosses to the political theories of their time. Aldiough, just like 
the Roman lawyers, they never had a total vision of the statist society, the solu- 
tions which they suggested, based on die problems which they treated for the 
Church, were of the first importance for die development of the civil society 
of their period. Their conception of the organisation of ecclesiastical society 
through the slow maturation of rules, such as the sanior et major pars (the wiser 
and greater part) or the quod omnes tangit ab omnibus approbari debet (what con- 
cerns all ought to be approved by all), was valuable as a model for the secular 

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states which could benefit from them to resolve the problems posed them by 
the positioning of new political mechanisms. There was wholesale transfer of 
structures and effective juridical skills from tire Church — a highly organised 
society - to die state whose structures were still feeling their way. 

Thus for much of the fourteenth century, jurists, whether Roman or canon 
lawyers, made a substantial contribution, by means of their thought to the 
enrichment of both political dieory and government practice. But diey were 
not the only ones. Often judged too rigid and unadaptable, their contribution 
long direatened by diat of theology, philosophy and rhetoric, was also threat- 
ened by diat of a political science whose dynamism was ceaselessly asserted 
each time there was any discourse on power. In his De Monarchia, Dante 
(1265-1321) already asked three fundamental questions. Was the empire, that 
‘unique principality’, useful to the well-being of the world? Were the Roman 
people right to assume the function of die monarchy? And, finally, did die 
authority which that monarchy exercised come direcdy from God, or from 
some other minister and vicar of God? To the two first questions, the author 
of the Divine Comedy replied in the affirmative, before laying down as a funda- 
mental principle drat temporal and political authority, completely independent 
of the vicar of God could only be subordinate to God himself. Thus, kings 
and emperor were released from all allegiance to the pope. Envisaging the doc- 
trine of the divine right of princes, Dante, a political exile and refugee in north- 
ern Italy, turned to die emperor to ask him to free from papal ascendancy an 
‘Italy enslaved and the home of grief’. 

A furdier step along this padi was taken by Marsilius of Padua 
(1275/80—1343). The product of artiens and physiciens, the enfants terribles of the 
university and confirmed opponents of tradition, he carried with him the entire 
inheritance of the turbulent politics of die Italian cities. Rector of the university 
of Paris, close to the political ventures of die Ghibellines, then the valued coun- 
cillor of Lewis of Bavaria whose vicar imperial he became, he preferred 
Aristode to Thomist theology and Roman law. This was why his Defensor Pads 
(1324) was deeply opposed to die political order born of Christianity under the 
control of the papacy. The sworn enemy of sacerdotal hegemony, he denied the 
Church all power to transfer it to the state, thus empowered to supply its 
members’ spiritual needs. And in die state it was to the people diat die main 
part of power returned, in particular that of legislating in the general assembly 
of citizens. This was to construct a completely new system of powers from 
which the religious sphere was excluded to promote an absolutism of the state 
which, just as radically conceived, could only end in a totalitarian system. 

Espousing these theses, but in a more moderate form, William of Ockham 
(1270-1347), product of the faculty of theology, represented the tradition, 

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The theory and practice of government in western Europe z i 

more than a century old, of the Franciscan Order. Widi a smattering of 
philosophy, this Oxford graduate also proved himself a resolute opponent of 
sacerdotalism, while maintaining papal power in all its integrity. From it, the 
imperial dignity stemmed direcdy. It was held immediate a solo Deo (direcdy from 
God alone) and it was through the agency of the emperor, from the moment 
when he was elected by die majority of the prince-electors, that God governed 
the world. This was to acknowledge in the emperor a true dominium mundi 
(world-wide audiority) for which die young states were to challenge him for a 
long while to come. 

1.2 From the dominium mundi to the assertion of the states 

With the collapse of the empire after the death of Frederick II, then the Great 
Interregnum (1250—73), the thirteenth century marked the end of the imperial 
dominium mundi. Everywhere, civil and canon lawyers made a case for the redis- 
covered sovereignty of their own country and made the famous formula, rex 
in regno suo inferator est (the king is emperor in his kingdom), victorious from 
Sicily to England. Then began a threefold evolution which dominated the 
reorganisation of the states of the west. The empire did not disappear, but it 
fragmented while the national monarchies triumphed a litde everywhere, 
except in die Italian peninsula where the city-states secured their success to 
varying degrees. From diis profound remodelling of die states three political 
systems and three very different types of government were to be born. 

Even diminished, the myth of mferium mundi in the hands of the emperor 
remained firmly anchored in the minds and political practices of die four- 
teenth century. Although Bartolus himself accepted the idea that the greater 
part of the world no longer recognised imperial authority and that the regna and 
civitates which were subordinate to the imperium romanum were fewer and fewer, 
diere were also those who, with some nostalgia, thought that the emperor 
should still reign over all kings and all nations. In their eyes, die independence 
which they acquired was only a de facto independence, and not de jure. Moreover, 
there were still many canon lawyers who, in the fourteenth century, besides 
those who had encouraged the autonomy of the regna , believed that the pope 
remained die only true emperor and diat, the emperor being his vicar, no 
regnum could ultimately escape imperial audiority. This suffices to explain why, 
after his coronation at Rome (1312), die emperor Henry VII addressed a letter 
to all the princes of the west in which he recalled his claims to the universality 
of the empire. He did not lack arguments to justify them. He preserved a very 
powerful tool, Roman law, which was universally applicable. His justice should 
be acknowledged everywhere, so it was always possible for a subject to appeal 

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from his king to the emperor and so the crime of kse-majeste always seemed a 
crime essentially imperial in nature. 

But tire political events of the fourteenth century did not come to the aid of 
juridical argumentation. Even within the limits of the Holy Roman Empire of 
the German nation alone, the emperor was no longer the sole holder of power. 
Always a butt for the papacy, he had also to secure his own existence in rela- 
tion to the territorial princes. If the dispute with the papacy was engaged on 
spiritual ground rather than on that of sovereignty, it was none the less true 
that the emperor found himself in a difficult situation of dependence in rela- 
tion to the pope who always demanded, through the imperial coronation, the 
right to legitimate every imperial election. The struggle with imperial universal- 
ism was thus openly declared. It had to fail because the confusion of notions 
of empire, Church and Christendom, too intimately bound to the Germanic 
idea of empire, had led tire emperor to overstep his competences, usurping the 
acknowledged prerogatives of the pope. In the aftermath of the death of 
Henry VII (i 3 1 3), it was to tire people of Rome that Lewis of Bavaria turned 
to secure his power and to whom he declared in 1328: ‘in this town, by the grace 
of providence, we have legitimately received the imperial diadem and the 
sceptre from our Roman people particularly dear to us and, thanks to the invin- 
cible power of God and of ourselves, we govern die city and the world’. It was 
also to combat this situation of dependence in relation to the pope and to 
affirm the autonomy of tire empire that he received among his councillors 
Franciscans in dispute with die pope, such as William of Ockham or philoso- 
phers like Marsilius of Padua. 

This desire to escape from all subjection to the Holy See found its institu- 
tional expression in two constitutions of Lewis of Bavaria and one declaration 
of the prince-electors assembled at Rhens in 1338. They proclaimed that the 
king of the Romans, elected unanimously or by majority vote, had no need, for 
his power to be effective, to have recourse to any confirmation by the Holy See. 
This meant, thanks to the support of the princes, the end of dependence on 
papal power, but it also meant, at the same time, placing imperial power more 
securely under their control, to make the empire a dualist state whose mastery 
was henceforth shared between the electoral college of the princes and the 
emperor. This development was enshrined in the imperial code (Kaiserliches 
Rechtsbuch) of 1358, called the ‘Golden Bull’ from the beginning of die fifteenth 
century. This famous text fixed the order in which the prince-electors 
( Kuifursten ) cast their vote and stipulated diat the election must be established 
by majority vote. Thus the elective principle triumphed and the thorny 
problem of relations between Church and empire was finally regulated. The 
empire freed itself from the Church but, strengthening the authority of the 
princes, it fostered the breakup of power and accelerated die triumph of the 

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The theory and practice of government in western Europe z 3 

Germanic territorial principalities in transferring almost all regalian rights to 
die prince-electors. This act dierefore institutionalised die weakness of the 
emperor and his government who was not remotely endowed with the institu- 
tions which he needed to make himself obeyed. Without - or virtually without 
- a domain, a fiscal system and, consequently, without financial resources, the 
emperor could not equip himself with a professional army. The judicial mech- 
anisms remained identical. Justice, most of the time granted as a fief, always 
eluded the emperor, which made peace constandy dependent upon regional 
alliances. As for the towns, to which the central authority owed part of its rev- 
enues through the harsh taxation it imposed upon diem, they found them- 
selves constandy exposed to die greed of the princes, particularly to that of the 
prince-electors, henceforth invested with a veritable territorial sovereignty. 

Such an evolution could only favour the rise of the national monarchies. The 
more the century passed, die more their governments had to give themselves 
a structure to face the immense needs which sprang from the modern state, 
for which they were responsible. Admittedly, no word yet existed for ‘state’ as 
we understand it, and the term status , often used, was always followed by a 
complement: status repuhlicae, status regni, status coronae. Status , then, designated 
more a state, a way of being, than ‘the state’. But diis was not because the state 
did not yet exist, endowed as it was with its principal component parts and with 
a government whose smooth running did not cease to hold the attention of 
die dieorists. Throughout western Europe in die fourteendi century, except in 
Italy, the nation-state became reality every day and secured its own sovereignty. 
Bartolus himself agreed that all these regnawete no longer actually subordinate 
to the imperial dominium, but diat they were henceforth holders of the sove- 
reign rights which they most frequently held de facto, and not de jure. The evolu- 
tion which made them national sovereign monarchies was complete, even if no 
author had yet succeeded in defining a coherent theory of sovereignty. The 
essential was that die fully independent exercise of the great prerogatives tradi- 
tionally devolved to the emperor, imperium,potestas,juridictio and administratio, be 
granted them. 

Bartolus agreed to this, while insisting on the idea that die emperor pre- 
served a permanent right, by reason of his auctoritas principis vel superioris 
(audiority of prince or sovereign) of confirming the legitimacy of these new 
power-holders and of deposing them each time they behaved like tyrants. But 
diat was more attachment to the past dian an objective description of present 
reality. The turning-point had passed in the 1 270s, the date when Jacques de 
Revigny (d. 1 296) in his Eectura on die Institutes strove to demonstrate that the 
king of France in tenforalihus superiorem non recognoscit (does not recognise any 
superior in temporalities) and when Guillaume Durand the Elder (d. 1 296) 

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echoed him in pounding out the formula, Rex Franciae princeps estin regno suo (the 
king of France is prince in his own kingdom). Everywhere else die same wind 
of independence blew, whether it was in Sicily where Marianus de Caramanico 
(d. 1288) endeavoured to establish the independence of the king of Sicily in 
his Preface to the Fiber Constitutionem Regnum Siciliae , or in Castile, where Las 
siete partidas of Alfonso X took up the same plea on behalf of their sovereign. 
There was no longer any doubt that kings were emperors in dieir kingdoms in 
the fourteenth century. All the political literature bears ample witness to this. 
Finally freed from imperial power, all these young states also wanted to be free 
of the plenitudo potestatis (plenitude of power) of the pope, this unlimited power 
which had authorised him to intervene up to this point in the life of the states, 
as much to depose a king as to exempt the subjects from obedience to their 
prince. But to the extent that, at die beginning of the fourteenth century, the 
destinies of the Church and papacy were closely linked, it was no longer 
conceivable that all these national states set free from the empire would con- 
tinue to accept a temporal dependence upon Rome. This was why they rejected 
it vigorously, as much because of the serious difficulties which the Church was 
experiencing at that time as because of their constantly advertised desire 
definitively to secure their total independence. Even in Italy, papacy and empire 
scarcely succeeded in maintaining their tutelage. 

In the fourteenth century, the old rivalry between Guelfs and Ghibellines, 
which had until dien torn the peninsula so violently apart, gradually dwindled 
away. The supporters of the two clans, once so violendy opposed, came to an 
agreement to admit that their common interest was to do everything to safe- 
guard their autonomy, in respect of both pope and emperor. From then on, 
setting aside Venice, which had always been able to preserve its autonomy, 
what should be done so that the kingdom of Naples, traditionally the vassal of 
the Holy See, and almost all tire other cities of the peninsula - except for the 
Papal States - should succeed in freeing themselves from the pontifical or 
imperial yoke in order to achieve the status of city-state with their own institu- 
tions and government? There was, of course, imperial privilege from which 
Venice and other Lombard towns had benefited. But this concession de jure was 
rare. For a long while, a whole, very old doctrinal movement, started mainly by 
the canon lawyers dien also supported by Roman lawyers, had opened the way 
to a de facto autonomy of the cities. Asserting that they had left die pontifical 
and imperial orbit, they had hammered out the theory of the civitas sibi princeps 
(the city a prince unto itself) which Bartolus systematised and generalised. But 
there should be no mistake about it. The civitas which Bartolus envisaged was 
still only an autonomous city, admittedly the depository of all die powers exer- 
cised by die emperor, but not a veritable city-state whose institutions gradually 

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The theory and practice of government in western Europe 2 5 

constructed themselves. Almost all of them had to reckon with the imperial 
vicariate which, although it still checked tire road to complete autonomy, no 
less favoured the birth of particular institutions. That towns like Florence and 
Pisa sought to obtain - and succeeded - the imperial vicariate after taking an 
oath to the emperor is significant. Thanks to the vicariate, they often succeeded 
in legalising their power over the contado which they controlled and in strength- 
ening their institutional structures. These constituent parts allowed them, 
slowly, to secure their accession to the rank of city-state and better to define 
the powers of those to whom they entrusted the responsibility of administer- 
ing them. 

1.3 From the authority of princes to the rights of the state 

Throughout fourteenth-century Europe the state made its entry in force. The 
distinction, founded on scholarly juridical thought, between what was public 
and what was private, between jus publicum and jus privatum , made a substantial 
contribution to shaping tire state and giving its government autonomous exis- 
tence. King and state were henceforth separate, increasingly subject to a 
specific judicial regime. This was why the king now had tire role of incarnat- 
ing the state, representing it and acting in its name. To the extent that this new 
vision triumphed, there was a complete transfer of competences from a prince, 
whom evolution wrested from feudalism, to a king accountable for the govern- 
ment and the destinies of the state. It was better to discern all these compe- 
tences that jurists and theoreticians of government applied themselves. In this 
sphere, the fourteenth century simultaneously combined maturity and novelty. 
Maturity because it did no more than consolidate the gains of the previous 
centuries each time the portrait of tire king and lover of justice had gradually 
to be refined to make it a legislating king in the face of the crises and troubles 
of the time. Novelty because the doctrine defined to the advantage of a prince 
responsible for the peace, security and prosperity of the country, the element 
of power which he lacked to bring Iris task to a successful conclusion: die right 
to tax. 

It was first the empire, then, where the sovereign still appeared, in the four- 
teenth century, as an ambiguous figure, at the same time both public audiority 
and private authority because he was a chosen feudal lord and brought to 
power thanks to the consensus of die great princes. Despite this persistent 
duality in the nature of his function, the sovereign led with constancy an obsti- 
nate struggle for public opinion to assemble in a sort of supreme lordship, a 
veritable sanctuary of the state, all the prerogatives once devolved to the 
Roman emperor. Among their number featured, in die first place, judicial 

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power. Always shared with the great feudal lords, but claimed by the prince, its 
exercise appeared as the product of a policy of conciliation. From the reign of 
Lewis of Bavaria onwards, the imperial German court (. Deutsches konigliches 
Hojgericht), which had until then been peripatetic, became sedentary and thus 
contributed to giving die empire its characteristic of ‘justice-state’. Thus the 
authority of a central imperial jurisdiction was asserted, simultaneously a high 
court of justice with responsibility for hearing the most important cases and 
an ordinary supreme tribunal before which all final appeal procedure had per- 
force to end. Nevertheless, the sovereign could not succeed in imposing 
control of justice and public order unless he succeeded in keeping feudal law 
( Lehnrecht ) apart from audiority and constantly separating it from territorial law 
( Landrecht ). However, this is what happened. Relying on this Lehnrecht con- 
ceived as an effective means of legal appropriation, the princes supported by 
a whole shift in commentary on the Mirrors , particularly the Abridged Gloss of the 
Lehnrecht of the Saxons in 1386, increasingly controlled all spheres of social life 
and arrogated to diemselves the right of stating the law. Then a veritable de facto 
division of die power of justice occurred. The emperor had justice in his court; 
the prince odier cases. Thus justice became less die apanage of state govern- 
ment than a veritable right granted to diose who governed states whose struc- 
ture began to stabilise around princely powers. It was dierefore by means of 
feudal law that justice gradually became an integral part of the competence of 

Elsewhere, die opposite development was taking place everywhere. All the 
sovereigns of die west recovered their judicial power by triumphing over 
feudalism. The image of die king as judge, whether he exercised his justice per- 
sonally or delegated it, was sketched by the pen of all the theoreticians. Witness, 
for fourteenth-century France, die admiration with which Christine de Pisan 
(1365-1430) described Charles V dispensing justice in person and die acerbic 
criticism of delegated judges made by all die defendants of royal power. Jean 
Gerson (1363-1429) did not cease to abuse all diose who ‘sell dieir sentences, 
sacrifice the rights of a party, refuse to judge die poor or the innocent’, while 
Philippe de Mezieres (1327-1405) saw diem as none other dian ‘pillagers and 
tyrants’ ( pillars ettyrans) who ‘rule like lords in the kingdom in opposition to the 
king’. Incontestably, there was confidence in die justice of the king whom 
Philippe de Mezieres even advised to draw inspiration from die Italian tribunals 
to reform the entire French judicial system. But this was too much to ask of a 
sovereign all of whose powers in this sphere now hardly experienced any check. 
Once seigneurial jurisdictions were almost completely subordinated by means 
of the appeal, committal for trial and cases reserved to die crown, and ecclesi- 
astical justices stricdy controlled by means of ‘privileged cases’, die prince nat- 
urally found himself compelled, to secure this success, to have recourse to the 

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The theory and practice of government in western Europe 27 

delegated judges, although they were of limited competence and impartiality. 
From bailliage tribunals to the parlementoi Paris, the kingdom’s supreme judicial 
authority since the last decades of the thirteenth century, the hierarchy became 
stricter, competence better defined under the control of a king who, widi his 
council, constituted die capstone of the judicial edifice. 

At the same time, England experienced a comparable evolution, even if the 
intervention of royal judges encountered greater resistance on the part of both 
ecclesiastical and secular lords. They were reluctant to accept diat their com- 
petence should be limited and that the judgements they made should be con- 
trolled. They also rejected the constant obligation of proving the secure 
foundation of their autonomy to which the crown wanted to subject them. 
Nevertheless, by die end of die fourteenth century, the final triumph of royal 
justice was secured in the three essential domains, which were landed property 
and personal estate with the court of common pleas, royal finance widi the 
court of die exchequer, and crimes against the state widi the court of King’s 
Bench. As this royal power of justice was secured everywhere, so also it expe- 
rienced everywhere its natural extension in the right of condere legem. 

Since the glossators, debate had been the order of the day. Natural corollary of 
judicial action, the power to make law found itself to some extent without any 
immediate holder in the aftermadi of the check on the dominium mundi. A very 
vigorous demand followed, as much on die part of the city-states as the nation- 
states, throughout the thirteenth century. In the following century, their cause 
was understood but what authority did they possess, empowered to decree the 
law? A many-sided reply was given to this question. 

Since a fair number of the Italian cities had complied with the statute of civ- 
itates liberae, their councils could freely decree statuta often surpassing the 
legislation of the nation-states in volume and quality. In the fourteenth 
century, the problem remained of the co-existence of these statuta with Roman 
law which progressively constituted a true ius commune whose power was soon 
to limit dieir legislative freedom just as - but to a lesser extent - that of odier 

In those of the Iberian peninsula, as in France, the prince’s legislative capac- 
ity was acknowledged henceforth. Everywhere the tags quod principis placuit legis 
habet vigorem (what is pleasing to the prince has the force of law) and princeps 
legibus solutus est (die prince is not bound by laws) had made their way by sheer 
force. Often voluntarily given a wide interpretation, they made it possible to 
grant die prince a large normative capacity, at least in theory. In reality, there 
was absolutely no need to look in these two poorly understood formulae for a 
sort of clause justifying the absolute power of the prince to condere legem , since 
his legislative action could always be justified, in all circumstances, from the 

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moment when he declared that he acted ex certa scientia principis (from die certain 
knowledge of the prince). There was nothing surprising, dien, in die fact that 
all diese kings were granted the ‘right to make laws and constitutions ... or to 
reduce them or entirely revoke and repeal them’, as the author of the Songe du 
X 'ergier put it for the king of France. But nowhere was this capacity of die leg- 
islative prince to make a contribution, through the action of his courts, to the 
unification of laws and local customs, established so quickly as in England, a 
procedure which was to give birth to the ‘common law’, rapidly hoisted to the 
rank of the Roman lex. To this substantial capacity granted to the prince was 
added die power he had to judge, in his council, all miscarriages of justice, a 
power which Edward III officially delegated to his chancellor in 1349. Thus 
‘equity’ gradually began to grow by means of the case law of the king’s council, 
then that of the court of chancery. This demonstrates well how much judicial 
power constituted, in all circumstances, the surest foundations of normative 

Judges and legislators, the sovereigns of die fourteenth century, also made 
insistent demands to be able to exercise undivided die right to tax whoever they 
wanted. If they did not completely succeed, and if the vision which the Songe 
du X ’ergier presents us for the whole of Europe, of ‘kings . . . who can levy such 
extraordinary aids, salt taxes, hearth taxes and impositions on their subjects’ is 
slightly idealised, it had to be acknowledged that royal power to levy taxation 
had become a reality everywhere. Feudal taxation was slowly replaced by state 
taxation, because, of course, throughout die century, profound changes took 
place as much at the level of mentalities as at that of the relations binding 
prince and country. Henceforth, taxes were no longer thought of as a due 
which the sovereign levied, but, quite the contrary, as a tax which subjects 
should bring him in order to participate in the defence of the kingdom. 
Taxation was thus progressively legitimised, a development which commanded 
attention all the more forcibly as a beneficiary other than the king emerged. 
This was the state which, in die sphere of fiscality, as in many others, had just 
transcended die person of the sovereign. Admittedly, it still often had to nego- 
tiate with the representatives of regions and towns, but this negotiation was 
always made easier because taxation was henceforth levied for the utilitas regni 
or the necessitas republicae. It was a condition for the exercise of royal power to 
levy taxes, not an obstacle to it. 

Take France c. 1350, a period in the course of which the estates, although a 
very heavyweight force in political life, never made any real objection to the 
levying of taxation. Or take, at the same time, Castile with its sovereign whose 
exemplary fiscal system hardly suffered from the consent which he had to 
obtain from the cortes and die towns for levying taxes. Their representatives 

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The theory and practice of government in western Europe 29 

never succeeded in limiting or sharing institutionally the royal right to levy 
taxes. And, finally, take England, where there was a comparable development. 
Throughout the thirteenth century, the kings had acquired the habit of regu- 
larly levying a tax on die personal goods of subjects, and parliament, which had 
not opposed it, continued to respond favourably throughout the following 
century to their demands, in relation to both direct and indirect taxation. It was 
more from the people that opposition to the royal right to levy taxes came with 
the revolt of 1381, in the aftermath of the creation of a new poll tax. 

This was enough to remind the sovereign, there as elsewhere, that it was 
always necessary to adjust the theory of power to the reality of facts. From a 
political science in full gestation necessity compelled a shift, more modestly, 
towards an art of government. 


While the thirteenth century had marked die triumph of the ideas of Aristotle, 
so significant for a new political science, the fourteenth century was character- 
ised more by their being put into concrete practice in the daily exercise of 
powers. Solutions for diem were often sought to attempt to resolve the polit- 
ical crises with which different governments were confronted. Everywhere a 
concern for national adaptation of this Aristotelian scheme showed through. 
A theoretician like Nicolas d’Oresme (1325—82) proclaimed aloud this neces- 
sity, affirming that ‘according to the diversity of regions, complexions, inclina- 
tions, and the customs of peoples, it was fitting that their positive rights and 
their governments should be different’. It was above all to apply oneself to 
defining and making state structures operate which henceforth dominated the 
professional governing classes (2.1, below) and an increasingly structured 
government whose links tightened across the country (2.2) to lead it towards 
a contest which most often ended in a fruitful dialogue (2.3). 

2. 1 Government specialists 

The entire history of die states of the west in the fourteenth century reflects 
their constant concern to place at their head government specialists experi- 
enced in the practice of power. This was first true of the sovereign whose 
dominant preoccupation was, always, to surround himself with die best-edu- 
cated councillors. 

From the states of the Iberian peninsula to England, passing through all the 
European capitals, the sovereign appeared henceforth as a veritable political 
expert. To be king became a profession which was learnt, which was exercised 

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within die framework of strict rules and, additionally, which could be lost if 
one did not show oneself worthy and capable, or if one went beyond the limits 
fixed by law and practice in die exercise of the royal office. 

In the Iberian states, much was demanded of the kings, a high proportion 
of whom, in the fourteenth century, were child-kings and often even also came 
from foreign countries or had been brought up far from the throne. Then they 
had to be taught everydiing about their new country, its customs and laws. The 
destiny of Philip, count of Evreux, to whose lot the throne of Navarre fell by 
right of his wife Jeanne in 1328, is particularly significant in this respect. In a 
few months, while continuing to sit on die council of Philip VI of Valois, the 
new king of Navarre had to come to know everydiing about his country, 
whose men, language and institutions became familiar to him in a short space 
of time. Or take Ferdinand of Trastamara of Antequera who, coming from 
Castile where he secured die regency, was chosen in 1412 to govern Aragon. 
Straightaway, he had to fathom all the secrets of the Crown of Aragon and of 
that northern province whose Mediterranean and continental policy had no 
connection with diat of Castile. Take, too, the dirone of Castile, perfect 
redection of the need to train in a short time princes called to reign too young. 
Ferdinand IV was one year old in 1295, Alfonso XI had scarcely reached his 
second year in 1312, while Pedro I was called to ascend the throne at the age 
of fifteen in 1350. For these very young princes, a rapid and intensive educa- 
tion was indispensable so that drey could take up the reins of the country as 
quickly as possible. 

To educate the king and train him in the art of government appeared an 
urgent necessity everywhere. The fashion was for Mirrors which made it possi- 
ble, at one and the same time, to make the prince an expert in government and 
to inculcate in him the idea that his primordial role was, above all, to lead his 
people towards a certain end. A providential man, sent by God and endowed 
with the noblest qualities, he should be able to practise all the virtues of die 
statesman without difficulty. In fourteenth-century France, numerous authors, 
such as Gerson, Christine de Pisan, Philippe de Mezieres or the audior of the 
Songe du l ergier, lingered long to describe, dirough an ideal portrait of the 
prince, how he should govern with love, make himself loved, widiout 
fiattering, all the while making himself respected without tyranny, always prac- 
tising ‘the virtue of trudi’ which, alone, made it possible to govern prudendy. 
But it was also expected that the prince be humble, pious, chaste, sober, gener- 
ous, magnanimous, open and just. The ideal was thus composed of asceticism, 
exemplariness and of surpassing oneself. But appearing as a model of virtue 
was not enough, die prince had also to be able to make his image shine and 
present all his majesty. Familiar and open to the requests of his subjects, he was 
also to be admired, obeyed and feared. These were qualities which authorised 

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The theory and practice of government in western Europe 3 1 

him to assume with dignity his office entirely directed to the triumph of peace 
and justice. 

This portrait of the ideal prince which the French authors of the fourteenth 
century present in such minute detail was to be found in very similar fashion 
beyond the Pyrenees in the Iberian peninsula. Alfonso XI tire Justiciar, king of 
Castile (1312-50), following die example of all the kings of Christendom, had 
translated into Castilian the De Regimine Principum of Giles of Rome. At the 
same time, and based on this treatise, his cousin, Don Juan Manuel, formulated 
an entire system of government in his Libro de los Estados, where he delivered 
a careful reflection on royal sovereignty, the law, the Fueros and the participa- 
tion of the people in the exercise of power. The bishop of Viseu, Alfonso Pais, 
followed this movement, in composing a Mirror entirely concerned widi an 
analysis of royal function, while a little later it was die Castilian chancellor 
himself, Pedro de Ayala, who conducted, in the course of his works, a similar 
political reflection. All these authors were in agreement on the need for a king 
strong in the exercise of his power. The acclamation by die cortes, at the 
moment of his accession to the throne, legitimated his power which crowning 
had almost always just strengthened, but very rarely anointing, the rite of 
which had been virtually lost since the Visigodiic period. It was then in one of 
the towns such as Saragossa, Pamplona, Burgos, Lisbon or Santiago, desig- 
nated capital cities since the fourteenth century, that die king was anointed by 
the primate of his state. This king chosen by God and acclaimed by his people 
had henceforth a better-founded power but one which, in any case, could not 
become absolute under pain of sinking into tyranny which all Spanish authors 
of the century were agreed in condemning. In France, a whole current of 
thought also attached great value to limiting the powers of a king, who, 
although always anointed and Most Christian King, occupied a place apart in 
the world of the kingdoms of the west in die fourteendi century. Nicolas 
d’Oresme took the lead as spokesman for these authors in making a stand 
against the plenitude de poste too often granted the king. Against diis concept he 
opposed that of poste modern, in order to redress the perverse effects of an 
absolutist ideology which he ostentatiously denounced and which, in his eyes, 
appeared truly devastating, most particularly in the sphere of fiscality. 

Little heard in France at diis period, there seems to have been more dis- 
course of this kind across the Channel throughout the fourteenth century. 
This was undoubtedly because Edward II, Edward III and Richard II had grad- 
ually drawn all the consequences of an affirmed absolutist monarchy whose 
harsh setbacks they had endured, as is well known. Deeming themselves above 
the law and released from all obligation, seeing their subjects only as individu- 
als forced to obey them and the kingdom as their private property, they went 
counter to the common law and the statutes, pardoned criminals and bypassed 

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the need for authorisation by parliament to levy taxes. This is why Edward II 
was forced, from 1 308, to take a new coronation oath full of consequences for 
the future. In addition to the traditional undertakings made by die king on this 
occasion, he promised to observe die just laws and customs which the com- 
munity - principally that of the barons - was to establish. And these barons 
set down loud and clear, in their declaration of 1308, the distinction between 
crown and royal person, affirming that homage and allegiance were owed to 
the crown and not to the king. 

Such were certainly the harbingers of the deposition of Edward II by the 
parliament of 1327, immediately followed by the proclamation of Edward III 
as king. Too inclined to strengthen his authority and to control both his council 
and his chancellor with too heavy a hand, the new sovereign made ready the 
serious crisis of 1341. It came to an end only with a compromise at the end of 
which royal prerogatives were further diminished. Edward III acknowledged 
the supreme value of Magna Carta and undertook not to dismiss any official 
without die judgement of parliament. Even though he went back on all his 
promises in 1343, the crisis of 1341 was a no less destabilising element in royal 
power and a powerful factor strengthening the role of parliament, henceforth 
held to be the only institution capable of resolving conflicts between the king 
and his officials, a contentious issue which was no longer considered as being 
private in nature, but public. Under Richard II, relations between crown and 
parliament were constantly strained. Throughout the serious crisis of the years 
1386-8, die authority of die sovereign was seriously challenged. Parliament 
truly set itself up as a supreme court, demanded a very strict control of expen- 
diture and wanted to arrogate to itself the right to dissolution when die king 
was absent for forty days. Quite simply, it wanted to demonstrate that it was 
subordinate in no way whatsoever to royal authority. The sovereign had finally 
to accept the creation of a commission invested for a year with power to 
reform the state. Positions hardened and ended with the Merciless Parliament 
of 1388 which made parliament die ultimate legal arbiter and attributed to it 
supreme authority. The rupture was accomplished between a king which 
refused to submit and an all-powerful parliament. The final attempts of the 
sovereign, throughout the years 1397-9, to strengthen his absolutism were the 
direct cause of his deposition by parliament to which part of the royal pre- 
rogatives were transferred on the accession to the throne of Henry IV, who 
now held his power simultaneously from God and by the consent of the 
kingdom, expressed through parliament. Better advised, the English kings 
would doubtless better have controlled die absolutist tendency of their power. 

This necessity for die prince to surround himself with constant and enlightened 
council, always stressed by theorists, was broadly applied in the government 

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The theory and practice of government in western Europe 3 3 

practices of all states in the fourteenth century. And this was so true in France 
diat Charles V himself asserted that the duty for a king who did not want to be 
taxed with tyranny was to govern ‘by the council of a large number of wise men, 
clerical or lay’. Doing dais and following the demonstration of Aristode, he also 
proved very open to an entire current of thought and to the pressing entreaties 
of his entourage. All the authors judged that the councillors constituted a cog 
in the government which the sovereign could not bypass. Gerson exhorted 
Charles V to follow this path, writing ‘do all by council and you will not repent 
of it’, while Christine de Pisan asserted that the sovereign always chose his 
councillors with science etprendomie (skill and judgement) from zmonggens propices 
et convenahles (suitable and fitting persons). They all had to show sufficient qual- 
ities and guarantees, whether it was a question of their love of tire public good, 
their sense of tire truth and their indestructible attachment to tire sovereign 
who, everywhere, appeared to retain control of both tire composition and die 
convening of die council. The key piece in die political game, he shared widi 
die chancellor the most important part of government tasks. 

In France as in England, die chancellor was the only one of the great officers 
to survive in permanent form, which led him to play a decisive role in the 
mechanism of the state after the break-up of the curia regis. While the house- 
hold was restricted to the service of die prince, chancellor and councillors were 
in the front line for taking charge of all tasks of drafting, justice, council and 
decision making. This was why, from die mid-thirteendi century onwards, and 
diroughout Europe, princes surrounded diemselves with men who they could 
trust and who diey rewarded and who took an oath to them to serve the state 
by guarding all its secrets. Similar developments piecemeal - in England from 
before 1257, in France from before 1269 and throughout the second half of 
die thirteenth century in the German principalities — made the king, his chan- 
cellor and his councillors henceforth veritable pillars of the state. 

Fluid in its composition since the sovereign summoned to it whoever he 
wanted, the council’s competence was also flexible and constandy evolving 
towards an increasingly marked specialisation, principally confined within the 
function of council and, subsidiarily, of justice. The evolution was particularly 
clear in England in the fourteenth century, where the court of the exchequer, 
court of common pleas and die court of the King’s Bench, which had long 
been gradually detached from the council, constituted, since the reign of 
Henry III, a complex judicial ensemble in which each of these courts (which 
now had only distant contacts with the council) had its own area of jurisdic- 
tion. In France, a similar evolution occurred, but it was later, since it was only 
in the last decades of the thirteenth century diat die parlement began to secure 
an autonomy which did not become definitive until the 1340s. Then the council 
fully assumed its principal function, that of advising the king and participating 

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with him in the exercise of justice reserved to the crown. In the Iberian states, 
the role of die council in the fourteenth century was undoubtedly still more 
fundamental. The main part of royal power originated in it. This is why direct- 
ing die council meant directing the country, and why, too, the king’s court was 
nodiing odier than a centre of intrigue in which all die candidates competed 
in the direction of the council which was a meeting of princes or intimates of 
the king. 

In this way, therefore, at die end of the Middle Ages, whether it was a ques- 
tion of the great or continual council of England, of the conseil etroit, conseil prive, 
conseil secret or conseil grand in France, of the secret council or sworn council of 
the German princes or die secret council of Milan, all were in part detached 
from the tasks of finance and justice, which they had looked after at the 
time of dieir earliest history, so that they could dedicate themselves better to 
advising die prince in secret matters of the state and exercising, with him, 
that part of justice which he did not intend to delegate. This was why few 
members - some dozen at the most - were admitted to it, to make of diem, at 
the sovereign’s side, the veritable masters of the state. Noble or bourgeois, 
lawyer or financier, it was always from them that decisions came and the 
impulses fitted to stimulate an administration right in die middle of a complete 

2.2 An oppressive administration 

The complexity of die administrative structures of states of the west in the 
fourteenth century is explained, principally, by the incomparable rise of 
government bureaucracy throughout the previous centuries. Its development 
was the direct consequence of the increase in central administrative depart- 
ments. Its rigidity, inertia and sometimes its inability to adapt to the new 
demands of the modern state necessitated the creation of local administrative 
departments increasingly diversified and capable of resolving at once and on 
the spot all the problems which a central government could not settle, too 
often lacking the information and the means of action to intervene rapidly and 
effectively. Priority was thus given to the administration and to its departments, 
whose actions, increasingly autonomous in relation to the impulses of central 
government, often also became as inclusive as they were burdensome for the 
governed. This was particularly true of fourteenth-century France but much 
less so for England, while the systems retained by the Iberian countries corre- 
sponded to a middle path. 

In France, the corollary of the constant inflation in the personnel of central 
administrative departments throughout the fourteenth century — four 

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The theory and practice of government in western Europe 3 5 

councillors at the requites du palais in 1314 and twenty- nine in 1343, twenty 
councillors at the parlement in 1314 and sixty-two in 1343, thirty notaries in 
the chancery in 1316 and fifty-nine in 1361 — was the ever-greater complex- 
ity of local administration. One has the impression that the increase in 
offices and agents of the king in the capital was matched, throughout the 
country, by a necessary increase in both the number of local departments 
and staff. Since the mid-thirteenth century, the hailli became, from a peri- 
patetic official without a fixed area, a sedentary administrator responsible 
for administering an area with well-defined limits, the hailliage. At the begin- 
ning of the fourteenth century, he was all-powerful in it and cut the true 
figure of a viceroy. In part, the full representative of the sovereign, he exer- 
cised there all the delegated prerogatives. Head of the judicial administra- 
tion, he presided over the assizes, whose court he composed as he wished, 
mixing there representatives of the populace with probi homines (worthy 
men) chosen on account of their good legal knowledge. Responsible for 
the receipt of all royal funds, he organised the farming out of the privotes 
and drew the revenues from them, securing the collection of all levies, taxes 
and fines. Responsible for the maintenance of public order, he was invested 
with a veritable power of law and order, strengthened further by the obliga- 
tion which was incumbent upon him to publish and observe all the royal 
ordinances that he could, by virtue of his statutory power, adapted to local 
necessities. Judge, tax collector, legislator, this was the picture of the bailli 
in the first decades of the fourteenth century. Remunerated by the king, he 
was directly responsible to him. Released from all ties to his bailliage , of 
which he could not be a native and where he could not possess any prop- 
erty and which it was compulsory for him to leave at the end of three years, 
he compelled recognition like a veritable agent of the state whose status 
and career were perfectly defined. 

But it would be to concentrate too many problems in the hands of a single 
individual to make the bailli the only interlocutor of the state at a point when 
the latter was multiplying and diversifying tire departments of its central 
administration. A similar development could, inevitably, only be planned 
within the entirety of the kingdom as a whole. Often the initiative came from 
tire baillis themselves who, without being invited to do so by the central author- 
ity, surrounded themselves, from die 1320s onwards, with collaborators whose 
action would finally rebound against them. Chosen by them at the outset, these 
officials progressively arrogated a certain autonomy to themselves before 
being nominated by the king himself who made them his veritable agents. This 
was certainly the case with the receivers of the bailliage. Responsible since the 
last years of the thirteenth century for the collection and handling of funds 
under die control of the bailli, diey became, in 1320, authentic royal receivers, 

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following an ordinance of Philip die Fair which forbade all baillis to interfere 
with the handling of funds. A similar evolution made the lieutenants of the 
baillis, entrusted with assisting him in his judicial tasks since the end of the thir- 
teenth century, veritable royal judges. Despite the opposition of populations, 
systematically denying that the bailli could delegate any of the areas of his 
jurisdiction, the crown had to ratify this development in 1389. It then profited 
from it to make these lieutenants of justice true royal judges whom it nomi- 
nated and directly controlled. In the fiscal and financial sector, finally, the 
institution of the bailliage experienced the same curtailment of power. The 
collection of heavy hearth taxes (fouages) which the war imposed from 1355 
onwards was to escape the baillis completely to the profit of officials at first 
appointed by the Estates General then, afterwards, nominated by the king, the 
elus. Their district was not remotely the bailliage, but tire election. 

In the Iberian kingdoms, the distant life of tire localities, of which the govern- 
ment often knew little, forced the monarchs to devise a complex administra- 
tion responsible for extending their action on the spot. A general scheme, 
which could always be adapted, dominated the organisation of local 
administration. In the states as a whole, tire responsibility for managing tire 
province was entrusted to a merino or adelantado, who sometimes received the 
title of mayor if he was placed at the head of an area of acknowledged eco- 
nomic or strategic importance. All these agents received authority delegated 
from the king in the form of a charter which listed their powers in detail. Full 
legal authority was thus also conferred on them to administer their merindad, to 
strengthen its safety, law and order, and justice. All these powers were increased 
if the king were a minor, or in his absence, as in Navarre at the beginning of 
the fourteenth century, when the merino was empowered to appoint the alcaytes 
of the royal castles and receive their oath of allegiance in die name of the king, 
from whom alone this power to appoint, in theory, depended. Thus conceived, 
the merindad constituted a truly autonomous unit in which the merino exercised 
his powers with a whole group of officers who were subordinate only to him 
and who were found a post on his recommendation. This was especially the 
case with his justicia and his receivers. These were agents who sometimes forgot 
that they represented die central government and who were thus tempted to 
abuse their power. 

Most fortunately, die men of the lordships and towns recalled them to their 
duty and never failed to do so in the presence of the sovereign at the assem- 
blies of the cortes. This was why die kings of Aragon travelled a great deal. They 
considered it important to demonstrate that they were close to their subjects 
in order to hear their grievances, whether at Denia, Minorca or Teruel. As for 
the kings of Navarre, they adapted the Capetian system of requests, which 

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The theory and practice of government in western Europe 3 7 

allowed diem to be constandy informed about what was happening in their 
kingdom as a whole. To these regional administrative structures fitted to 
extend the action of the sovereigns, moreover, the institution of die haylle came 
to be added, an agent entrusted widi representing the king in his towns, facing 
tire council, and with communicating to the central government all the city’s 
grievances. If his action was well handled, it was always the opportunity for 
starting a true dialogue between the king and his subjects. In this way, there- 
fore, in Spain as in France, complexity undoubtedly dominated the structures 
of local administration in the fourteenth century. 

It was the same in England, but undoubtedly to a lesser extent. Dominated 
since the tenth century by the all-powerful sheriff, the territorial administration 
was progressively diversified to make of this official, in the fourteenth century, 
a representative of the king who had slowly lost die major part of his powers, 
just like the bailli of the kings of France. Since 1242, die escheators had 
deprived him of tire main part of his powers in financial matters. Moreover, 
die policy of reducing die areas of his judicial authority, undertaken since the 
reign of Henry II, had not ceased to bear fruit in that direction. The increase 
in judicial circuits in the counties at the courts of which judges from 
Westminster presided in place of the sheriff at die sessions of the shire courts, 
and the gradual institution of die coroners, whose primary task was to hold an 
inquest, if a man died, designed to enable a grand jury to present the accused 
to the itinerant judges. It was in the same perspective of the reduction of the 
sheriff s powers that the sovereigns of the thirteenth century had progressively 
set up the institution of tire ‘keepers of the peace’, officials whose role, both 
in the military field and that of law and order, was to make diem, in the reign 
of Edward III in 1362, veritable justices of the peace. They had the appearance 
of permanent judges simultaneously endowed with powers of decision and 
execution, as much in the field of justice as that of administration. Called to 
become the most important officials in their area, they progressively emptied 
of its content all die power of the sheriff, whose essential competence 
remained die transmission of the king’s writs in the county. This was still an 
important prerogative, in so far as the size and development, ceaselessly 
increasing, of the central bureaucracy produced an ever-greater number of 
written documents. 

In this way, as in the other countries of the west in the fourteenth century, 
die dominant characteristic of the English administration lay in the great 
number of its officials. Whether appointed by the king but not paid by him, 
like the sheriffs, escheators and justices of the peace, or chosen by the shire 
courts like the coroners, they all contributed to give the impression of a very 
great independence in local administration. This sentiment was in addition 

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considerably strengthened by numerous franchises (exempt jurisdictions) and 
the highly autonomous functioning of the courts of justice, in particular the 
jury system. Reality was more nuanced. Although the English sovereigns had 
granted some autonomy to all these local authorities, it was above all because 
they expected from them unpaid services, whose exact bounds they stipulated 
strictly. But it did not end there. The role of these authorities designated by the 
prince or chosen by the local populations was above all to execute orders sent 
from Westminster. Since none of these offices were remunerated, they could 
only be assumed by well-to-do individuals, most frequently landholders, 
whether knights or not, who always showed themselves concerned to maintain 
the established order and, by the same token, to ensure royal orders were 
respected. Thanks to them, too, and through their agency, a fruitful dialogue 
was set afoot between die prince and die country, a dialogue destined to be 
continued within the framework of parliament. In France, on the contrary, this 
dialogue could scarcely be engaged other than by means of representative 
assemblies; local administrative officials - paid by the sovereign and increas- 
ingly career administrators — had neidier the inclination nor the qualifications 
to engage in a similar dialogue. 

zy A n ecessary dialogue 

Representative institutions dominated die entire history of the relations of 
those who governed with the country throughout the fourteenth century. This 
century was everywhere a period of dialogue which was realised through the 
intermediary of the estates general and the provincial estates, or, in England, 
within the framework of parliament. Why was such a dialogue established and 
how was it able to continue? 

It was not by chance drat these institutions of dialogue strengthened dieir posi- 
tion in the fourteendi century. Many of them had their origins in die previous 
century, while others saw the light of day with feudalism but all, widiout excep- 
tion, experienced dieir apogee in the fourteenth century. Quite simply because 
in this century of crises and difficulties, the country felt more need to make its 
voice heard, facing a prince and an administration whose power was constantly 
asserted. In France, war and financial difficulties; in the Low Countries, the 
death of princes without male heirs; in the German principalities, successive, 
constandy repeated divisions of inheritance; in Hungary, die crisis of the state 
of 1382, following die death of Louis the Great - diese were the factors which 
help explain the irresistible development of assemblies of estates. 

Over and above their differences, diey all obeyed a common model in their 
organisation which was very broadly based on the assemblies of die Church. 

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The theory and practice of government in western Europe 3 9 

Synods and councils constituted henceforth assemblies whose maturity made 
it possible to put to die test all the methods of representation and deliberation. 
The saying, quod omnes tangit ab omnibus approbetur (what concerns everyone 
should be approved by everyone), compelled recognition so that it was pro- 
gressively adopted by all the political assemblies, whether by die English parlia- 
ment in 1295 or, gradually, by all the assemblies of estates on the whole 
continent. To agree with this rule implied diat the problem of representation 
was to be compulsorily resolved, since not all the deputies of different estates 
could attend the sessions of the assemblies. It was because mediods of proxy 
had progressed throughout the diirteenth century that representatives could 
be gradually appointed to whom their constituents delegated first a limited 
power, that of ouir et rapporter (hearing and reporting) then, slowly and with 
many reservations, a plena potestas (full authority) which authorised them, in 
theory at least, to act with full liberty. 

Parallel to dais development of juridical methods, the fourteenth century 
saw a considerable enlargement in the composition of assemblies of estates. 
Until the mid-thirteenth century, representatives of the nobility and clergy 
were mainly summoned. From that time onwards, slowly and litde by litde, the 
delegates of die towns made dieir entrance. This was particularly true of 
France. After several attempts in this direction by St Louis, the policy of four- 
teenth-century sovereigns was to extend, as broadly as possible, representation 
to the deputies of the towns. There was a very similar, but later, development 
in the empire, where, in 1362, die representatives of the towns sat for the first 
time in the estates of the Tyrol. Thus these assemblies — increasingly referred 
to as the ‘three estates’ since the appearance of this expression in Burgundy at 
the end of the diirteenth century - became widespread throughout continen- 
tal Europe in all the regions, as well as at the level of the state. In England, 
evolution was different because of the fact that parliament simultaneously pos- 
sessed the same powers as the assemblies of estates on the continent but also, 
and above all, a considerable judicial and legislative power. 

This was die problem set by the role devolved to these institutions of dialogue, 
whether they were assemblies of estates or parliament. After a period of trial 
and error, it was fairly well defined in die fourteendi century. Beyond the desire 
of the prince to communicate with die country and the desire to meet him 
evinced by die representatives of his subjects, diese assemblies were always 
convened to resolve specific problems. They appeared then as veritable organs 
of government, adapted to suggesting solutions to questions which the prince 
would not or, most often, could not solve alone. Problems with the coinage 
seem to have lain at the very heart of the preoccupations of diese first assem- 
blies. They dominated dieir activities in the thirteenth century. Hencefordi, the 

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coinage was no longer the concern of the prince, as it had been in the feudal 
period. This was why clergy, nobility and bourgeois meant, dirough the agency 
of their representatives in the estates, to control a good part of monetary 
policy, especially in the area of mutations of the coinage. They had a very real 
influence everywhere. There was Edward III, who in 1352 agreed not to do 
anything widiout the agreement of the Commons, and John the Good, who 
made a similar commitment to the estates in 1355, while Jeanne and Wenceslas 
of Brabant promised, the following year, to do nothing without consulting the 

More acute still, the problem of war and its financing in the fourteenth 
century made jurisdiction over the currency fade into the background. It was 
undoubtedly to the permanency of war that the representative assemblies 
owed the main part of their success. It was financial aid - radier than advice 
or counsel on the conduct of operations - that the sovereigns of the four- 
teendi century demanded from their estates, or their parliament, while 
attempting to convince diem that necessity and emergency always justified 
their consent to die levy of new taxes. And since the war continued, they also 
had to continue. But the principle of permanent taxation was still a long way 
off. For the time being, the sovereigns had to admit that a tax could only be 
levied if there was need and with the consent of their subjects’ representatives. 
Often the estates and parliament even imposed still stricter regulation on the 
ruler. For did not parliament appoint, in 1340, commissioners to control the 
levy of tax to which they had consented and the estates of the Languedoi'l set 
up, from 1355, the entire administration of die elus with a view to controlling 
the complete management of die aides from assessment to collection? 

This was an important decade for the role played by the assemblies. The 
middle of die fourteenth century marked, in fact, the period of their apogee. 
Aldiough the English parliament succeeded in establishing its victories perma- 
nently, tilings were different with the estates in other countries. Those which it 
has become traditional to call ‘the estates general’ lost some of dieir weight and 
it was hencefordi more with the provincial estates that the princes discussed 
the defence of their territory and die grant of the subsidy. This dius provided 
an opportunity for their deputies to present the grievances which the prince 
might sometimes, after careful scrutiny, transform into ordinances. This was a 
frequent occurrence in France, and also in Spain where the cortes played a role 
of the first importance in the formulation of die Constitutions of Catalonia 
and the Fueros of Aragon. In England, strong as a result of the role it played 
henceforth in financial matters, parliament had a clear tendency to lose sight 
of its powers in judicial matters to strengthen its normative capacity. To the 
individual petitions which it received until the end of the diirteenth century 
were added the collective petitions which it sent to the king if it judged it 

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The theory and practice of government in western Europe 4 1 

opportune. Thus in 1327 a common petition gave birth, for die first time, to a 
statute decreed by the king in parliament. This procedure grew to such an 
extent that parliament received fewer and fewer individual petitions for judge- 
ment, saw its court become empty and dius became, in die mid-fourteenth 
century, a true legislative body. This was a unique evolution, not experienced 
by any other country of die west even though the estates were, to some extent 
everywhere, the instigators of important ordinances suggested and, some- 
times, imposed by means of their grievances. 

But they were not convened with sufficient regularity for their activities to 
become truly institutionalised. The sessions were in general short, a few days 
at the most, and their rhythm subject to the goodwill of the prince except, 
perhaps, in Catalonia or Aragon, where die practice of convening the cortes 
annually became established at the beginning of the fourteenth century. But 
there, too, theory was very far from reality. In England, by contrast, the average 
duration of a parliament was about three weeks and it met practically annually 
in the fourteenth century. Since, additionally, the same peers were almost 
always summoned to die upper house and numerous knights and burgesses 
often sat in several successive parliaments in the House of Commons, it can 
better be understood how such continuity could make of parliament an institu- 
tion which was rapidly able to consolidate its power against that of the sove- 
reign. Nothing comparable occurred with the estates, even if some, such as 
those of Aragon, succeeded in developing, throughout the fourteenth century, 
permanent commissions responsible for extending their activities between the 
sessions able to force a constant dialogue on the prince. 

‘Dialogue’ - diis is die key word dominating bodi die theory and practice of 
power during die whole of die fourteenth century. A state which strengthened 
its grip everywhere faced a country which was starting to organise itself. 
Progressively freed from feudalism, it was no longer prepared to fall back into 
subjection and made its voice heard over and against a prince whose power 
nobody disputed, but which everyone wished to see regulated and its exercise 
limited. Two strong periods dominated this political evolution of the four- 
teenth century. Until around the 1340s, carried by the rapid expansion 
imparted it by die lawyers, royal power continually grew stronger. Everywhere, 
the great bodies of the state and its officials, whose numbers ceaselessly 
increased, assured its success. But with the arrival of war and the crises diat 
accompanied it, then this fine enthusiasm was shattered. From Spain to 
England, from Hungary to France, a wind of democracy arose to remind the 
princes that they had to listen, in this game of politics, to the voice of their 
subjects and to reckon with those who represented them. 

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Jeremy Catto 

the main determinant of religious thought in the fourteenth century, which 
would eventually affect every aspect of public worship and private prayer, was 
the concentrated effort, in the previous century, to marshal, state logically and 
resolve questions according to an agreed theological language, establishing 
thereby a coherent method of religious education. The enduring issues of 
God’s relation to the world, the human soul and the nature of redemption were 
not resolved, but they had been successfully contained within an abstract and 
largely Aristotelian language, and were generally discussed by a trained and 
conscious elite at Paris or its satellites in Oxford, Cambridge and the schools 
of the friars. The attempt to resolve them had created and continued to create 
philosophical syntheses of greater or less cohesion. That of Thomas Aquinas, 
promoted by the Order of Preachers and universally known after his canon- 
isation in 1323, was matched in the first decades of the century by the more 
amorphous body of ideas associated with the Franciscan doctors Duns Scotus, 
Peter Auriol and Francois de Meyronnes: among whom the influence of 
current logic brought about, some twenty years later, a critical reexamination 
of theological language, associated with William of Ockham, and as the moral 
and social aspects of religious thinking began to dominate debate, a vigorous 
return to Augustinian ideas. These bodies of ideas did not create distinct 
schools of thought: virtually all theologians of the fourteenth century were 
independent thinkers who can be classified as Augustinians, Thomists, Scotists 
or followers of the via moderna — only in a broad sense. They were united by a 
common inheritance of terms and concepts and a common analytical training, 
to which the rich religious literature of the century owed die bulk of its con- 
ceptual structure: Ramon Lull’s contemplation through memory, under- 
standing and will, Meister Eckhart’s ‘ground of the soul’, the unity of essence 
of Jan Ruysbroeck and the concept of naked love of The Cloud of Unknowing 
were all, or were derived from, ideas of theologians. 

In the course of the fourteenth century the learning of theologians both 


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Currents of religious thought and expression 


proliferated across Europe, through new theology faculties in universities and 
innumerable cathedral, monastic and friars’ schools, and came to focus more 
directly than before on the moral and pastoral questions which confronted 
individuals. Theologians began to play an active role in the government of the 
Church: in contrast to the work of teaching and speculation which filled the 
lives of thirteenth-century doctors like Aquinas, Henry of Ghent or Peter John 
Olivi, the experience of their successors in secular and ecclesiastical affairs and 
the work of the missionary and the inquisitor profoundly modified their think- 
ing. Pierre de la Palud OP, for instance, left the Paris schools to argue the case 
of Pope John XXII against Franciscan poverty, and then as patriarch of 
Jerusalem to promote tire crusade (1317-42). Richard Fitzralph, a secular 
doctor of Oxford, served Benedict XII and Clement VI in debate with Greek 
and Armenian churchmen, ending his career in 1360 as archbishop of Armagh 
and bitter opponent of the friars; the Czech theologian Adalbert Ranconis (d. 
1388), who had studied at Paris and Oxford, served Emperor Charles IV as 
clerk and court preacher and gave support to the Bohemian reform movement; 
Peter Philargi (of Candia) OFM, a Cretan friar who studied at Padua, Oxford 
and Paris, promoted Catholic teaching in Lithuania, was made bishop of 
various Lombard sees, acted as an envoy of the duke of Milan, and was even- 
tually elected Pope Alexander V (1409-10). In each case practical experience 
refocused these theologians’ interests and ideas, bringing to tire forefront 
aspects of their subject which had an immediate bearing on tire pastoral work 
of the clergy. Not surprisingly this sometimes led to sharp controversy which 
involved canonists as well as theologians and in some cases judicial processes 
before tire Roman curia. The question of the poverty of Christ and the apos- 
tles, for instance, which touched the vocation of Franciscans, provoked crisis 
in the order in the pontificate of John XXII, while in mid-century the relation 
of friars to secular clergy touched off a parallel debate on ecclesiastical prop- 
erty and its scriptural warrant which reverberated from 1350, when Fitzralph 
first raised it at Avignon, for the rest of the century and beyond. 

Less dramatic but of equal import for the religion of tire laity was the slow 
advance of theological education among tire European clergy. In 1300 it was 
exceptional for a bishop, and a fortiori for a parish priest, to have attended tire 
schools, even in England where a learned clergy had probably made most 
progress; in the province of Vienne, for instance, neither tire archbishop nor 
his five suffragans is known to have done so, and only one of their recent pre- 
decessors, Henry of Geneva the elected but unconfirmed bishop of Valence, 
had studied in a university - in his case Bologna. 1 On tire other hand many 
cathedral chapters and some monasteries had begun to appoint trained friars as 

1 Boisset (1973), pp. 1 16— 25. 

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lectors, and in many European towns, die schools of die mendicant orders were 
attended by secular clergy and even the laity. The work of Remigio del Girolami 
OP as lector at Santa Maria Novella (c. 1 275-13 1 5) was valued by die commune 
of Florence, and it is probable that die friars’ schools at Erfurt and Cologne 
were able to diffuse dieological learning among die Germans and eastern 
Europeans in the absence of early universities. As the century progressed the 
schools of the friars multiplied, and in due course new theological faculties in 
universities began to turn out parish priests, cathedral canons and bishops, as 
well as friars. By 1414, when the Council of Constance was assembling, doctors 
of theology constituted a large minority of bishops, and a more substantial 
number were doctors of decrees; and among the effective leadership of the 
Council, die proportion of university-educated clergy was overwhelming. 

Jurists therefore as well as theologians participated in the work of defining 
the pastoral mission of die clergy. The early success of Bologna as a centre for 
the study of Roman and canon law had been imitated during the thirteenth 
century by faculties of canon law in Paris, Oxford, Orleans, Montpellier, 
Salamanca and many other places; the strong sense of evangelical purpose 
which many of their alumni shared - whedier exercised in missionary work 
beyond the borders of Christendom, or the defence of Orthodox belief and 
practice and die propagation of Christian teaching widiin them - was typified 
by Dr Jacques Duese, bishop of Frejus (1300) and Avignon (1310), who 
became Pope John XXII in 1316. The canon law, as a living law responsive to 
current ecclesiastical problems and preoccupations, had been fashioned by die 
thirteenth-century decretalists to implement the pastoral ideals of the Fourth 
Lateran Council, and by the end of the century a body of simple practical lit- 
erature for the guidance of preachers, confessors and parish priests was taking 
shape. Among the summaries popular during the fourteenth century were the 
two great works of the elder Guillaume Durand, bishop of Mende, his Speculum 
Iuris (c. 1274) and Rationale Divinorum, which served as handbooks of the 
canonical and liturgical duty of priests respectively; the use of John of 
Freiburg’s Summa Confessorum, a digest of legal, theological and practical guide- 
lines for parish priests (1295-1302), was even more widespread. This practical 
literature both infiuenced the practice of priests and was modified by experi- 
ence; and at the end of the century a new synthesis, more sensitive though no 
more indulgent to human weakness, was made in the Opus Tripartitum and other 
pastoral tracts of Jean Gerson, chancellor of Paris. These held the field 
throughout the fifteenth century and beyond. 

The substance of this body of teaching was imparted to the laity through 
two main channels. The broadest was probably die medium of the sermon, an 
increasingly frequent event in die life of townsmen and even rural communi- 
ties. Innumerable sermons survive from the fourteenth century: their form, 

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Currents of religious thought and expression 


originally an academic exposition of a biblical text, was constantly modified to 
conform to unlearned ears, and their content popularised with exempla or anec- 
dotes with simple morals. The friars were the pacesetters of the popular 
sermon: their styles, ranging from the elaborate classical stories of Robert 
Holcot OP to the ‘raw homilies for tire benefit of simple folk’ of Cardinal 
Bertrand de la Tour or the elegant rhetorical turns of Filippo di Montecalerio 
OFM, were honed to tire capacities of varying congregations. Though the vast 
majority of sermons have been preserved in Latin, it is clear that they were 
generally delivered in the vernacular, often with powerful effect. Itinerant 
preachers like die Catalan Dominican Vincent Ferrer, who between 1399 and 
1419 travelled through France preaching to great crowds in the open air, were 
believed to have a profound effect on public opinion, and die same was feared 
of Lollard preachers in England and Hussites in Bohemia. 

The sermon at its best was a potent instrument of persuasion, and its 
infiuence upon the development of vernacular literature was profound. Yet the 
second medium through which the religious thinking of the schools reached 
the laity was arguably effective at the deeper level of the individual con- 
science: the growing practice of private confession. This too had been devel- 
oped by the friars, and in the course of the fourteenth century it became 
common for at least the more substantial of die laity to make individual 
confessions at regular intervals, frequendy though not universally to the men- 
dicants. Literature for the guidance of confessors abounded; Summae Casuum, 
collections of cases before ecclesiastical courts and of other material, like the 
Summa Pisanella of Bartholomew of Pisa OFM, provided detailed advice and 
plans for the questioning of penitents. Where the infiuence of the confessional 
can be traced, it promoted, through the practice of private examination of 
conscience, independent religious thinking on the part of the penitent; the 
Livre de Seynf Medicines of Henry of Grosmont, duke of Lancaster, a fresh and 
original discourse on sins and their remedies, was one fruit of the sacrament 
of penance. In the second half of the century it was becoming common 
among the European noblesse to have a personalised prayer-book or book of 
hours; originating in the Psalter, the book of hours developed into a com- 
pendium of private devotions, offices of favourite saints and prayers derived 
from contemplative works, according to individual taste; a late fourteenth- 
century example from the diocese of Rodez, for instance, now in a Glasgow 
library, contains a nativity mass and vespers with penitential psalms and lita- 
nies in Provencal, presumably for a lay owner. 

Traditionally, the most public and communal aspects of religious devotion 
had focused on local saints, innumerable examples of which, originating in the 
late antique or early medieval eras and generally canonised only by popular 
acclaim, still attracted devotion in the fourteenth century. St Cuthbert, for 

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instance, the patron of Durham, at whose tomb the ‘inhabitants of the diocese 
swore their most solemn oaths or took die cross’; 2 or St Eulalia die patron saint 
of Barcelona, round whose tomb the kings of Aragon rebuilt the crypt (com- 
pleted in 1339) to accommodate pilgrims, placing a gothic statue of the saint 
in the church above. A regional cult might also focus on a newly recognised 
saint and his relics: one of the most bizarre was the cult of Thomas Aquinas 
at the Cistercian monastery of Fossanova in die kingdom of Naples, where 
long before his canonisation in 1 3 2 3 the monks and lay devotees, including die 
saint’s family, vied with the Dominican friars over possession of parts of his 
dismembered body: one result of which was the preservation of some of his 
autograph writings as relics in the convent at Naples. 

The cult of local saints achieved greatest definition in stable, well-recog- 
nised communities which looked to a single, unshared intercessor. The careers 
of a growing number of Europeans, however, made them mobile and there- 
fore less inclined to look to a cult bound to particular places and shrines. Their 
religious needs were sometimes satisfied by pilgrimage cults like that of St 
James die Greater at Compostela or St Thomas Becket at Canterbury, or at the 
end of the century by devotion to the hermit St Roch (d. c. 1380), whose cult 
became a prophylactic against the plague. The most potent of these unlocal- 
ised spiritual patrons was, of course, the Virgin; her cult, already well estab- 
lished in eastern Christianity, adopted from the twelfth century onwards a 
personal and intimate note in the west, pardy from association with the 
humanity of Christ and partly from the ideal of courtly love. Spread through- 
out Europe with the blessing of St Bernard, and dirough the active propaga- 
tion of Franciscan and especially Carmelite preachers, die various feasts and 
private devotions dedicated to Mary gained in popularity in the fourteenth 
century: the Annunciation, portrayed in innumerable altarpieces; the Holy 
Family, widi its secondary cults of St Anne and die Presentation of Mary; the 
Assumption; the Angelus, by 1400 often observed at noon as well as in the 
evening; and the rosary, a personal aid to prayer which grew in popularity with 
the advent of the devotio moderna. 

Marian devotion could as well be expressed privately as in the public liturgy, 
and its growdi is one aspect of the proliferation of personal religion among 
the laity. It was paralleled by numerous devotions, often originating as personal 
cults and evolving into public feast, to facets of the incarnation or passion of 
Christ, such as the Transfiguration, the Crown of Thorns, the Five Wounds 
and die Holy Name. In contrast the cult of Corpus Christi, deriving as it did 
from die canon of the mass, retained a public and communal character while 
appealing equally to personal compassion for the suffering of Christ, and was 

2 Dobson (1973), p. 28. 

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Currents of religious thought and expression 


therefore uniquely placed to be, in the following century, a channel through 
which die offices of die liturgical year could be refreshed by the reviving waters 
of inward devotion. Originating among die beguines of Liege before 1 240, it 
finally achieved universal status in 1317, and was rapidly taken up by lay reli- 
gious fraternities everywhere, especially in towns; eucharistic processions, 
rituals of unity associated with civic pride and sometimes enacted in hope or 
remembrance of a local eucharistic miracle, proliferated. The procession in 
turn, in die fifteenth century, became the focus of locally composed dramatic 
reenactments of the Passion. At every stage the personalisation of the Euchar- 
ist which the cult embodies touched a sensitive nerve, stimulating a widespread 
personal response, and it is not surprising that differing notions of its proper 
observance prompted violent controversy in die years around 1400. 

Corpus Christi guilds were only one category among a bewildering variety of 
confraternities, ranging from trade guilds, most developed in die great manu- 
facturing towns of Italy, which usually had a religious aspect, through societies 
dedicated to mutual insurance or to particular charities, to bodies bound by a 
common rule, religious practice or even belief, which might attract official dis- 
approval. Originating long before the fourteenth century, they proliferated after 
1300 and their purposes came to be more precisely defined, as increasing 
numbers of the laity of both sexes sought a specific form for their charitable or 
devotional aspirations. The establishment and running of hospitals was proba- 
bly die commonest activity of confraternities, for instance that of La Scala at 
Siena, where St Catherine had nursed die sick, or die hospital of St Benezet at 
Avignon. The disciplinati or dagellants formed a furdier species originating in the 
diirteendi century, dedicated to performing public penance on behalf of die 
community by mutual dagellation in die towns of soudiern Europe; organised 
locally in numerous confraternities, dieir members were largely artisans, who 
often combined flagellation with die cult of die Eucharist, as in Siena, or the 
Holy Name, like the fraternity of Barcelona. Attracting a good deal more suspi- 
cion than encouragement from Church audiorities, they grew in numbers 
because they had widespread lay support. Nevertheless die idea of assuming 
public penance for die sins of a body of Christians derived from monastic dis- 
cipline, and its popularity is one of many indices of die active development of 
earlier monastic religious thinking at die hands of die fourteendi-century laity. 

The fraternity probably served as a model for the many bodies of enthusi- 
asts whose unorthodox beliefs and practices had singled them out, in the thir- 
teenth century, for condemnation and suppression by Church authorities. The 
cohesion of these groups of heretics is a matter of dispute. Most of them had 
originated in the religious ferment of the late twelfth century, but the Cathars 
or Albigensians, whose dualist principles and hierarchy of perfecti had made 
numerous converts in Italy and southern France, survived persecution by 1 300 

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only in a few mountain villages, and may have disappeared entirely a few years 
later. The Waldensian congregations of the fourteenth century, heirs of an 
earlier wave of enthusiasm for the ideals of apostolic poverty and spiritual 
simplicity, are a different matter. They too persisted in upland villages, mainly 
in the Alps, though to what extent drey were conscious of belonging to a separ- 
ate sect is uncertain. In addition, they had penetrated into Germany, where 
small groups were to be found in some of die western and southern towns and 
in villages in the eastern borderlands, served evidendy by secretive itinerant 
‘masters’. Their distinctiveness, limited though it was, seems to have made 
them generally unpopular with their neighbours, and the concerted effort made 
to root them out of every part of Germany between 1392 and 1401 rested on 
solid public support. It was not completely successful; some Waldensians sur- 
vived to be greeted by the Hussites as torchbearers of true religion. But in 
general they and other enthusiasts for poverty, such as the Fraticelli in Italy, had 
litde impact on popular religious practice. 

Fraternities, being public bodies, did not in themselves provide spiritual sus- 
tenance for the many laymen and especially women who sought individual reli- 
gious experience in these years, though they probably made private initiative 
easier. There is evidence from several parts of Europe, especially in die later 
fourteenth century, of earnest deliberation on the part of both laity and clergy 
on the right outward form of religious life, whether a monastic vocation, the 
evangelical life of a friar, the solitary calling of the anchorite or recluse or a 
contemplative life in the world, the ‘mixed’ life. While the considerable litera- 
ture on the subject comes from the trained pens of the clergy, it was frequently 
evoked by lay need of advice: Walter Hilton wrote a tract on the utility of the 
religious life to guide the Carthusian vocation of die controller of the great 
wardrobe, Adam Horsley and Gerson addressed a series of tracts on medita- 
tion to his sisters. The question whether to enter a religious order, and if so 
which rule or community was appropriate to a particular vocation seems to 
have been posed especially sharply to trained men already embarked on a 
career. Within the monastic and mendicant orders it was becoming clear that 
some justification of the various orders’ ways of life was necessary in general 
religious terms, and diat justification might imply reform. Benedict XII had 
issued new constitutions for all the major orders, and their implementation, 
imperfect as it was, encouraged refiection on the mendicant and monastic 
rules. Bartholomew of Pisa’s work in defence of Franciscan conformity to the 
life of Christ was written about 1385; somewhat earlier, a series of tracts on the 
instruction of Benedictine novices had been composed anonymously at Bury 
St Edmunds. Outside their orders of origin, these works were probably not 
widely read, but they indicate their authors’ awareness of contemporary 
opinion and aspirations. 

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Currents of religious thought and expression 


Both within and outside the established orders, however, the variety of 
spiritual experience and die informality of the groups in which a religious life 
was developed is striking. One such informal group was the famiglia of the 
Dominican tertiary Cadierine Benincasa, later canonised as St Cadierine of 
Siena, which she formed about herself, and extended in her correspondence, 
between 1367 and 1380. It included her spiritual director Raymond of Capua 
OP, later a reforming master-general of his order, the English hermit of 
Leccato, William Flete OESA, and the Vallombrosan monk Giovanni dalle 
Celle, all of whom, in spite of Catherine’s somewhat imperious tone in her cor- 
respondence, were highly individual figures and spiritual advisers in their own 
right. They respected her personal experience of God, which arose from intro- 
spection: ‘my cell’, wrote Cadierine, ‘will not be one of stone or wood, but that 
of self-knowledge’. 3 Her intiuence was all the greater for not flowing through 
established channels. The informal and voluntary communities established by 
her contemporary Gerard Groote in the towns of the Ijssel valley in Holland 
seem to have been similar associations of independent minds, whose private 
devotions looked to no corporate support from the group beyond common 
manual labour. Known therefore as Brethren of the Common Life (as distinct 
from any special way of life), in the suspicious society of northern Europe they 
needed to fight for the right to live together widi out a rule. Perhaps a diird con- 
temporary group was that of John Wyclif ’s ‘poor preachers’, originally it would 
seem a body of university-trained radical preachers; but no evidence of any 
corporate activities, beyond preaching and producing vernacular books, now 
survives. Both within established communities or religious orders and outside 
diem, in informal groupings or in the virtual isolation of some hermits and 
recluses, the spiritual life of the age was determined by individual choices and 
private forms of devotion. 

In dais context the debate on the relative merits of the active and the con- 
templative life conducted by Italian intellectuals, a line of thought to which 
Petrarch contributed by implication and Coluccio Salutati more explicitly, was 
part of a wider choice faced not only by humanists but by the whole of the 
educated European world, both laity and clergy, both men and women, in the 
later fourteenth century. Petrarch, by temperament a man of the world, was 
constantly and perhaps increasingly attracted by the monastic life, as he made 
clear in his De Ocio Religiosorum and De l 'ita Solitaria. His admirer Salutati, as 
chancellor of Florence, was professionally committed to public affairs, and 
proposed to justify them, in 1372, in a book provisionally entitled De Vita 
Associabili et Operative ; but after die painful crises of the 1370s he was less sure, 
and by 1381 he could write a book of advice for a friend who had entered a 

3 Fawtier and Canet ( 1948 ), p. 60 . 

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monastic order, De Seculo etReligione, in which the monastic life is praised as the 
highest ideal. The question continued to trouble him with ‘tensions and fre- 
quent alternations between opposing attitudes’. 4 It is the same question which 
Walter Hilton considered, though with rather less hesitation, and which 
Gerson expounded to his sisters. If authors came to different conclusions, and 
if many of them even failed to maintain a consistent answer, the choice which 
it posed must have been real. 

Amid the bewildering variety of religious aspirations expressed during die 
century, it is possible to discern die outlines of a body of ideas, or themes, 
which had been exposed by the ceaseless erosion of the immediate issues in 
the ebb and how of academic debate. As Aristotelian logic was absorbed and 
then rapidly developed in the Paris schools, the earlier cosmologies and light- 
metaphysics gave way to more fundamental questions: first of all, in the 1 270s, 
the question of the unity or plurality of forms, on which the whole status of 
life on earth, whether natural to man or merely a provisional state, or half-life, 
seemed to depend; and then the great issues of God’s relation to creatures: 
divine omnipotence and human freedom, God’s knowledge of creatures and 
human knowledge of God, whether the Incarnation was merely a consequence 
of the Fall of Man, and finally the relation of God’s grace to human merit. 
These questions dominated the theology schools of Paris, Oxford and die 
provinces of the orders of friars from about 1 280 onwards, and even after two 
generations of debate, which somewhat exhausted original thinking on them, 
they remained the standard diet of academic theological exercises up to the six- 
teendi century. In the process of arguing the questions, the role of the dieo- 
logian significantly altered: whereas thirteendi-century theologians, including 
Aquinas, proposed to lay a solid, logically unassailable intellectual ground for 
the Christian faith, on which sound pastoral or missionary work, or specula- 
tive mystical thought, might be based, Henry of Ghent, Duns Scotus and Peter 
Auriol, acutely conscious of the systemic limits of human knowledge of God, 
seemed to regard speculation itself as dieir task. Eventually, after William of 
Ockham’s demolition of numerous accepted abstract concepts and the anti- 
intellectualism of some neo-Augustinian dieologians, the logical limits of 
human knowledge came to be so well established that theological speculation 
began to lose credit, leaving space for neoplatonic bodies of thought like that 
of John Wyclif, or more generally for various forms of mystical theology. 
Logic, first disciplining and then in effect strangling speculative theology, in this 
last stage withdrew from die field. 

The harbinger of the culminating phase of speculative religious thought, 
between 1280 and 1320, was the Parisian secular master Henry of Ghent 

4 Baron (1966), p. 109. 

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Currents of religious thought and expression 5 1 

(d. 1293), whose great series of quodlibets and disputed questions circulated 
rapidly and widely. Here under various headings he addressed himself to the 
fundamental nature of being as presented to the human intellect, bringing into 
juxtaposition on a general level ideas innate in the mind, like potentiality or 
being, and material realities apprehended by the senses. Taking these quite 
familiar notions to a new level of abstraction, he posited two wholly distinct 
orders of being, the world of existences as presented to the senses, which orig- 
inated in creation, and the world of essences as known innately to the mind, 
which owed their origin to the procession of the divine intellect. He thus pro- 
posed, but did not resolve, a series of stimulatingly indeterminate distinctions: 
between the eternity of essence and the eternity of God; the abstraction of 
essence and the concrete nature of individual substances; the indifference of 
essence and the determinate properties of singularity and universality. His suc- 
cessors and especially Duns Scotus sought to bridge die chasm he had created 
between essence and existence; in the form of a stark contrast between the 
possible and the actual worlds, it would provoke theologians of the fourteenth 
century to explore die logical limits of God’s omnipotence. The increasing 
sense of tension between God’s overwhelming power and human contingency 
was not, however, confined to the schools, as much devotional literature of the 
fourteenth century shows. Henry merely stated in the language of logic, and 
theologians after him tried to resolve, questions which had come to dominate 
religious thinking at several levels of sophistication. 

Henry of Ghent’s formulation of these questions provided a text for the 
leading theologians who followed him, most notably and intiuentially, of 
course, John Duns Scotus, die Oxford-trained Franciscan theologian who also 
taught in Paris and Cologne in die decade of activity before his early death in 
1308. Scotus sought to bridge the disjunction of essences and existences 
posited by his predecessor widi the notion of being as such, ens in quantum ens, 
as the object of knowledge. Human knowledge of God was limited: there was 
a distinction between theologia nostra, God as conceived by man, and theologia 
Dei, God as he really was. Aware then of die limits of human reason in appre- 
hending God, but following Augustine and Anselm ‘who believed that they 
laboured meritoriously in trying to understand what they believed’, 5 he 
attempted to grasp something of the nature of God’s freedom of the will 
dirough the notion of human free will. Human will was free in regard to oppo- 
site acts, to burn or not to burn for instance, tending to opposite objects and 
producing opposite effects. Mutable in itself and therefore imperfect, it nev- 
ertheless carried a vestige of the divine will in its character as an active potency 

5 ‘Augustinus et Anselmus crediderunt se meritorie laborare ut intelligerent quod crediderunt.’ John 

Duns Scotus, Ordinatio II d. i. q. 3, cited by Wolter (1986), p. 5. 

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5 2 


or a causal principle, a principle of creativity. But the human will is subject to 
rational and natural inclinations, to love what is good for its own sake; and such 
love is perfected by God’s gratuitous grace, making the well-ordered will truly 
and innately free. God’s perfect freedom of will lacks human mutability, having 
instead the rmitas or steadfast will which is the perfection of its rational 
inclinations; it is thus both perfectly determined and perfectly free. Like crea- 
tion itself, the incarnation of Christ is an absolutely free act of God’s love, 
independent of human causality; it could not be merely a consequential 
remedy for original sin. Scotus defended the Franciscan doctrine of the 
immaculate conception of Mary by the priority of the incarnation to any 
human action, which placed her relationship with Christ, her motherhood, 
outside the inheritance of Adam’s sin. 

Among a wealth of perceptions characteristic of Scotus’s thought, includ- 
ing univocity, the being-ness of beings, and haecceitas, their this-ness - itself a 
development of the Franciscan preference for arguing that things were know- 
able in their irreducible singularity, which he defended emphatically - the idea 
of the freedom of the human will as a perfection sharing in God’s perfect 
freedom was perhaps the most potent religious idea. Like much of his thought, 
it was rooted in Franciscan theology and spirituality with its strong and con- 
crete sense of the individual, its concentration on the notion of divine and 
human will perfected in charity or love, and its interpretation of theology as a 
practical rather than a speculative science; for Scotus, theology was the science 
of freedom and its perfection in charity, as distinct from philosophy, the 
science of nature, the realm of cause and necessary effect. His achievement 
was to reinterpret them in the light of Henry of Ghent’s refinement of the 
notions of actual and possible being and of what was free and what necessary 
to God, giving them the intellectual coherence and strength to endure, even to 
absorb the effects of the new logic of the fourteenth century. Had he lived 
longer, he might have emerged from the disciplined professionalism of Inis 
theological teaching. There are some signs even in his most technical works 
that his analysis of the nature of God rested on a contemplative vision: in the 
prayer to God with which he closed his late tract De Primo Principio, he invoked 
God’s formal qualities first in the language of the schools, and then in more 
mystical terms ‘communicating the rays of your goodness most liberally, you 
are boundless good, to whom as the most lovable thing of all every single being 
in its own way comes back to you as its ultimate end ’. 6 

In the republic of academic theology, the solutions of Scotus to these 

6 c Tu bonus sine termino, bonitatis tuae radios liberalissime communicans, ad quem amabilissimum 
singula suo modo recurrunt ut ad ultimum suum finem.’ Scotus, De Primo Principio , p. 144, cited by 
Wolter (1986), p. 8. 

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Currents of religious thought and expression 


current questions were discussed, modified and developed by numerous 
independent thinkers; ‘Scotism’ never achieved more than a modest degree of 
coherence as a body of doctrine. They were most effective in maintaining a 
measure of human freedom and individuality in the many discordant 
responses to die question of God’s omnipotence in relation to creatures and 
to the laws of nature, a question which involved the moral problem of God’s 
gratuitous grace and human merit. These questions presented themselves first 
and most sharply to dieologians, but in some form they concerned a far wider 
body of believers: laymen and old women, according to William of Ockham, 
badgered theologians on questions of contingency and free will, 7 and they 
were in die mind of die author of the English religious poem Pearl. A furdier 
stage in defining diem was reached shordy after Scotus’s deadi with the effort 
of largely English logicians and theologians to simplify the terms of theolog- 
ical debate and subject them to a more rigorous logic; this task was primarily, 
diough not exclusively, undertaken by William of Ockham, another Franciscan 
dieologian, shortly before and after 1320. The use of ‘terminist’ logic, the 
analysis of the properties of terms, and the introduction of the measure lan- 
guage of physics, concentrated attention on epistemological questions such as 
die limits of human knowledge of God and of the truths of faidi; and with 
every new application of modern logic, die agreed body of theological 
propositions open to logical demonstration diminished, leaving a theology 
increasingly divorced from the natural order and saved from indeterminacy 
only by accepted Christian doctrine. By the 1320s, first in Oxford and soon also 
in Paris, where ‘English’ logic was increasingly fashionable, the metaphysical 
issues which had concerned Scotus, like essence and existence, were in retreat. 

Nevertheless theology, in the middle third of the fourteenth century, did not 
lose sight of the great religious issues which Henry of Ghent and his contem- 
poraries had clarified. In the hands of Franciscan theologians like Adam 
Woodham, Austin friars such as Gregory of Rimini or secular masters such as 
Thomas Bradwardine and Richard Fitzralph, debate focused on two main, 
interrelated issues: how divine foreknowledge could be reconciled with future 
contingents, events determined by human will, and how God’s gratuitous 
grace, uncaused by any human agency, could be related to the meritorious acts 
of man without undermining die notion of free will. The necessity of retain- 
ing a place for human choice in a dieology dominated by the idea of God’s 
omnipotence brought some theologians to adopt ‘semi-Pelagian’ views, justi- 
fying the efficacy of human merit for salvation, such as Adam Woodham or 
the Parisian dieologianjohn of Mirecourt. But die tide of opinion was fiowing 

7 William of Ockham, Contra Benedictum, in, Opera Politica in, p. 231 . 

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strongly in the opposite direction, and the statement of such views merely 
provoked their ‘Augustinian’ opponents to condemn opinions which were no 
longer seen as mere academic differences, but as challenges to faith itself. The 
defenders of human participation in the task of salvation were, to 
Bradwardine, ingrates and enemies of grace, and their appeal to reason and 
experience in justification of free will was a form of derangement. 8 Though in 
his great defence of the doctrine of predestination, De Causa Dei contra 
Pelagianos, published in 1344, he attempted to reconcile his view that every 
event happens of necessity with at least the form of human free will, his deep 
conviction that God’s grace was utterly gratuitous and that it caused, rather 
than responded to, meritorious acts broke out from die restraints of an acad- 
emic issue. 

In the wake of Gregory of Rimini and Thomas Bradwardine die theo- 
logians of the second half of the century, Hugolinus of Orvieto and 
Dionysius of Montina in Paris and John Wyclif in Oxford generally main- 
tained a predestinarian view of grace and salvation. The gradual reformulation 
of the question as one of individual justification reveals something of its reli- 
gious significance. It was discussed by theologians who were themselves, or 
were close to, preachers and confessors involved in the pastoral work of the 
Church. The revival of biblical scholarship and its constant application in 
preaching, missionary work, the reformulation of doctrinal points through dis- 
cussion with theologians of the separated Churches of eastern Christianity, 
and the practice of confession broadened the scope of their thought, as the 
vast range of non-philosophical and non-theological authorities cited by 
Bradwardine goes to show. He and his contemporaries, acutely aware of the 
constant human decisions which men of the world — to whom many of them 
were confessors - had to make, seem to have seen the doctrine of God’s gra- 
tuitous grace and predestination of the saved as a source of consolation and 
steadfast faith, not of despair. For Bradwardine, the realisation of this truth 
was almost a religious revelation, ‘a mountain of inaccessible truth’; 9 and in 
varying degrees, theologians were beginning to recoil from ‘useless’ specula- 
tion and to take refuge in what they regarded as solid or simple verities. 
Bradwardine ’s Oxford contemporary Richard Fitzralph contrasted the light of 
scripture with his earlier theological speculations, as vain as the ‘frogs and 
toads’ croaking in his native Irish bog: a perspective which Wyclif also shared. 
At the end of the century the Parisian theologian Jean Gerson would condemn 
the questions discussed in die schools as useless, fruitless and insubstantial. 
These opinions were not entirely fair to the debates in Paris, Oxford and many 

8 Bradwardine, De Causa Dei contra Pelagianos, p. 309. 

9 ‘Ipse me deduces in montem huius inaccessibilis veritatis.’ Ibid., p. 808. 

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Currents of religious thought and expression 


of the theological faculties in die new universities of the empire, where the 
limits of the possible universe and God’s omnipotence continued to be 
explored with truly remarkable freedom; but they accorded widi the outward- 
looking, pastoral aspect of dreologians’ work, and were echoed in the awak- 
ening interest in religious questions of the world outside the universities. 

This common rejection of die speculations of earlier theologians has come 
to be seen, by historians of medieval thought and by students of the early 
humanists alike, as clear evidence of the decline of ‘scholasticism’, the sup- 
posed system of thought of the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century uni- 
versities. In the light of the impressive though extremely various intelligence 
of many religious writers of the century after 1350, however, such an inter- 
pretation seems doubtful. It is, rather, the effect of a general shift of interest 
in religious questions towards die moral perspective of the individual, bring- 
ing into focus questions of personal justification and salvation and, more 
broadly, questions of conscience. It would be a mistake to exaggerate the 
abstraction or unworldliness of even the most remote philosophers of the 
early fourteendi century; and in the following generations the concerns of a 
wider world would come to die fore. At the hands of the educated men of the 
world, active clergy or laity who concentrated on these questions, the unchang- 
ing philosophical problems of theology, the problems brought to light by the 
application of rigorous logic to religious truths, gave ground to historical and 
ecclesiological speculations on the stages of the Christian dispensation, the 
origin, destiny and constitution of the community of die faithful, and the char- 
acter of public religious cult and personal devotion. At the beginning of the 
fourteenth century, numerous accounts of Christian history and eschatology 
were widely current. Many Franciscans, notably St Bonaventure, had seen 
the appearance of St Francis as a work of divine mercy, restoring the virtue 
of the primitive Church and, in some eyes, preparing for the imminent end of 
the world; and Peter John Olivi, die champion of rigorous Franciscan poverty, 
had developed this notion in die light of the theories of Joachim of Fiore into 
an account of Christian history in seven ages, ending with the final age of the 
spirit ushered in by the conversion of the whole world by the friars. An alter- 
native Joachite view was that of the visionary Fra Dolcino, who was burnt in 
1306, dividing history into four states on the basis of the Apocalypse. These 
views appealed primarily to fanatics on the fringes of the educated world; but 
for Dante, who was much more widely read, die decline of ancient virtue, of 
die rational principles of Roman law and of die pure religion of the Aposdes 
was part of a providential pattern of history, which would be reversed in an 
imminent renovatio mundi when true Roman rule would be restored. 

These accounts of pagan and Christian history circulated among a 
European laity and clergy increasingly aware of the spatial as well as the 

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temporal frontiers of the Christian world. Much had happened in the 
thirteenth century to bring into focus not only the world of Islam, but the 
Mongol empire and die remote civilisations of the far east. The translation of 
Muslim and Jewish philosophical works, familiar to most theologians, had 
shown that not all wisdom had been transmitted through die Latin or even the 
Greek fathers; and the first missionaries to reach die Mongol khans and make 
contact with the network of Nestorian Christians in central Asia offered some 
hope, in their reports, of immeasurably widening the frontiers of Christendom. 
Among scholars who hoped to bring Muslims to accept Christianity by rea- 
soning, die Majorcan Ramon Lull, a Franciscan tertiary, was perhaps die most 
intiuential widi his various ‘arts’ or guides to the conversion of non-Christians; 
his knowledge of Islam and of Muslim philosophy, as well as of die Jewish 
intellectual tradition, encouraged him to found his efforts on the common 
ground of the three monotheistic religions. His projects for teaching oriental 
languages were adopted by die Council of Vienne in 1312, and his plans for a 
crusade, together with his reflections on conversion, had some influence in the 
milieu of the French court. Here for the rest of the century educated laymen 
with some knowledge of the Orient, like the Venetian merchant Marino Sanudo 
Torsello or the knight and publicist Philippe de Mezieres, tried to fire crusad- 
ing enthusiasm with intelligence and specific information. Knowledge of non- 
Christian cultures was widespread, if limited, in the fourteenth century, and the 
discussion of points of doctrine in which the papal curia engaged with various 
Armenian prelates between 1320 and 1350 resulted in the work of Richard 
Fitzralph, De Questionibus A rmenorum, which considered several aspects of doc- 
trine outside die framework of the schools. The question of the salvation of 
heathen peoples, including those who had lived before the Christian era and 
unbaptised infants, was raised by the Oxford theologian John Uthred of 
Boldon and had some currency in the later part of the century. By 1415, 
although Christian missions in the east had diminished and Islam was in the 
ascendant in the Balkans, the intellectual frontier of Christendom had notably 
expanded, and awareness of other religious traditions was widespread. The 
groundwork for the heroic, if ultimately doomed, attempt to reunite 
Christendom at the Council of Florence in 1438-9 had already been laid. 

These lines of thought, modifying abstract philosophical speculation, had 
been stimulated largely by external circumstance. They were further modified 
by events within the Christian west. In 1302 Philip IV of France brought his 
quarrel with Boniface VIII to a head with a violent outrage on the pope’s 
person at Anagni. The drama of the event provoked urgent thought on 
the nature of ecclesiastical authority and of the Church as a corporate 
body: the theologian John of Paris, who analysed the Church as a community, 
and the varying views of the canonists John Monachus and Guillaume Durand 

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Currents of religious thought and expression 


die younger, who applied die same principles to the Roman curia and to the 
body of bishops, looked to natural law and Aristode to provide a general solu- 
tion; and papal apologists such as Augustinus Triumphus of Ancona shared 
their opponents’ approach. But by the 1320s and 1330s, when John XXII’s 
assault on the Franciscan claim to a unique place in the Christian dispensation 
caused dissident friars to speculate on the problem of an heretical pope, 
William of Ockham, exiled at the court of Emperor Lewis at Munich, 
redefined die question as one for the individual conscience of theologians or 
others in places of responsibility, whose duty it was to question and ultimately 
to judge public authority. Ockham’s perspective was shared by the protagonists 
of tire controversy over the nature of dominion launched by Richard Fitzralph 
at die curia in 1350: originally fuelled by his objections, as archbishop of 
Armagh, to the interference of the friars in his clergy’s pastoral work, it devel- 
oped into a critique of their claims to poverty and practice of mendicancy, and 
then into speculation on the nature of ecclesiastical dominion, in which the 
thesis was propounded both by Fitzralph and some of his opponents that legit- 
imate dominion depended on its possessor being in a state of grace, and was 
dierefore, for practical purposes, exposed to the subjective judgement of con- 
science. Proponents of these ideas could be found bodi at Paris and at the new 
university of Prague; but their most eloquent advocate was die theologianjohn 
Wyclif at Oxford in the 1370s. Originally a supporter of Fitzralph’s friar critics, 
Wyclif took further than his contemporaries the notion of personal con- 
science and judgement in his great tract De Civili Dominio (1375-7); finding the 
only eardily expression of the eternal ideas inherent in God in die word of 
scripture, he left its specific meaning to the interior judgement of its readers. 

The immediate reaction to Wyclif’s opinions on authority, which he 
extended into a wide-ranging rejection of both ecclesiastical hierarchy and 
popular religious practices, including die cult of die Eucharist, was hostile. 
Nevertheless his ideas found favour in varying degrees among numerous 
Oxford masters and some of the bien-pensant opinion of the English court, 
among whom plans for die disendowment of the Church circulated; a group 
of his followers executed, in semi-secrecy, an ambitious project of evangelisa- 
tion which included a scholarly translation of the Bible into English, a body of 
model English sermons and texts and a campaign of preaching tours designed 
to bring the authority of bishops and priests into question. Their independent 
stance was echoed elsewhere in Europe. In Paris, reforming university masters 
like Pierre d’Ailly, Gerson and Nicholas de Clamanges gave only qualified 
support to Benedict XIII, the Avignonese claimant to the papacy; in Rome, the 
papal secretary Dietrich of Niem was even less endiusiastic about the Roman 
or eventually the Pisan claimants; and in Prague a succession of reformers, cul- 
minating in Dr Jan Hus, took up Wyclif’s call to action and challenged the 

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authority of the Church. Though the Bohemian schism which followed falls 
outside the present chapter, die opinions from which it sprang were wide- 
spread, and were reinforced by the schism in die papacy and the consequent 
necessity for a personal judgement on authority. The crisis imposed even on 
bishops and secular princes who prided themselves on their orthodoxy the 
obligation to make their own judgement; contemporary canonists such as 
Antonio de Butrio came to their rescue with the idea of epieikeia or necessity 
obliging private conscience. Public issues, when the Council of Constance 
opened in 1414, had moved firmly into the arena of the forum internum or indi- 
vidual judgement. 

The recourse to conscience opened up to those who ‘stand in activity by 
outward form of living’ a logic of internal spirituality, a personal padi to 
justification and grace; and by the closing years of die fourteenth century die 
idea of the spiritual development of die viator , the pilgrim dirough life, had 
taken sufficient shape to allow for a specific literature of contemplation. The 
practitioners of the art, themselves often members of religious orders, 
addressed their work, which was often written in a vernacular language, to 
nuns, anchoresses or, increasingly, to the laity. In the hands of Meister Eckhart, 
Cadierine of Siena and Walter Hilton die literature of contemplation reached 
new levels of insight and perception, and taken as a whole remains one of the 
most original achievements of the fourteenth century. 

The art or practice of contemplation did not, of course, originate in this 
period. Its origin, in the western tradition, lay in the Augustinian idea that the 
love of God was the basis of understanding, and in its division by the pseudo- 
Dionysius into purgative, illuminative and unitive phases; germinating in die 
solitude idealised by monks and anchorites, and taking form from the prayers 
and meditations of St Anselm, it had reached explicit expression in the monas- 
tic school of St Victor in twelfth-century Paris. Hugh of St Victor may well 
have been the first to give the term its first distinct religious meaning, and 
seems also to have sketched out the stages by which the pilgrim mounts to 
God. The idea of a journey of the soul towards God had been elaborated by 
his successor Richard of St Victor, for whom the love and knowledge of God 
were ultimately identical and, since he did not distinguish natural under- 
standing from mystical knowledge of God, theology and contemplation were 
in essence the same. His ‘speculative’ mysticism was die basis of the intellec- 
tual approach taken by the Rhineland mystical writers of the fourteenth 
century to the contemplative experiences of the nuns and beguines under their 
direction. A century after Richard, the Franciscan theologian Bonaventure had 
defined tire object of contemplation more specifically, by focusing it on the 
incarnation and passion of Christ, aspects of his humanity on which 

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Currents of religious thought and expression 


Franciscan devotion turned. By making it a subject of the spiritual direction 
which the friars were developing, he broadened its appeal beyond the monas- 
tic world of the Victorines, and opened it to communities of nuns and 
anchoresses who were bound by a less formal rule; the purgative, illuminative 
and unitive stages of contemplation which, following the pseudo-Dionysius, 
he made its framework, marked out what was beginning to be at once a more 
widely popular and a more deeply individual way of spiritual progress. 

At the same time, perhaps under the influence of the friars, loose religious 
communities or confraternities, whose distinctive mark was devotion to the life 
and passion of Christ, were springing up especially in the towns of Italy and 
the Rhineland. Women were prominent among them, particularly in Germany 
and the Low Countries, and in many of their surviving utterances tire language 
of secular love poetry is adapted to contemplation: this brautmystik or bridal 
imagery was characteristic of the poetry of the Dutch contemplative 
Hadewijch of Antwerp, whose note of ecstatic union with God seems to show 
that her idea of the return of fallen man to his creator by means of love was 
derived from her own religious experience, though possibly given form, 
through die friars, by die literary tradition of the Victorines. Guided by spiri- 
tual directors though she and her contemporaries probably were, their religious 
experiences were certainly not mere literary devices in the autobiographical 
writings, letters and notes which many of them composed, and testify to a 
widespread and autonomous movement. Occasionally enthusiasm outran the 
limits of orthodoxy among the loosely controlled communities of beguines, 
beghards or flagellants, and antinomian tendencies emerged from time to time 
in groups like the Brethren of the Free Spirit in Germany or the Fraticelli in 
Italy. In one expression of such emancipation from the pursuit of virtue, The 
Mirror of Simple Souls evidendy written by Marguerite Porete of Valenciennes, 
who was burned in 1310, contemplation replaced the moral life altogether. 
More frequently, however, the influence of friar directors like Henry of Halle 
OP, the adviser of the contemplative Mechtilde of Magdeburg, was strong 
enough to maintain die link between die teaching of the schools and spiritual- 
ity. Though the religious experience of the contemplatives was authentic, it was 
increasingly expressed through theological concepts, and sometimes in the 
very words of their confessors or directors. 

One of these spiritual directors, who clearly shared in the contemplative life 
and experience of his flock, was the Dominican friar Meister Eckhart (d. 1327), 
die leading figure of die Rhineland school of spirituality. Eckhart belonged by 
training and vocation to the small elite of theologians educated at Paris who 
carried their Thomist interpretation of religious truth into die heartiand of 
Germany in sermons, guides to the spiritual life and commentaries on scripture. 
Much of his work, like that of his Dominican or Franciscan contemporaries 

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engaged in pastoral activity, was uncontroversial. But he went further: he 
perfected an intellectualist and indeed metaphysical interpretation of the ivesen- 
mystik or notion of contemplative union with God, which owed something to 
Aquinas, and more perhaps to the Neoplatonist inspiration of the Jewish and 
Arabic philosophers whose works were known in tire universities of the west. 
The germ of this idea had already been expressed, though not in philosophical 
language, by Hadewijch of Antwerp. It was now given a speculative gloss at the 
hands of a theologian, and taught to Dominican nuns, and possibly to the laity, 
in sermons and treatises. Eckhart took the earlier notion of purgation or spir- 
itual stripping away on to a metaphysical plane, seeing creatures as nothingness, 
seeking their very being from their return to and participation in God. Putting 
aside all created tilings, tire ‘ground’ of the soul emerges as an uncreated being, 
part of God himself where the divine life can take root in a human individual. 
For Eckhart, tire path of contemplation thus transcends tire moral and sacra- 
mental life, transforming its pilgrim into the ‘noble’ man, one with the 
Godhead. Eckhart’s spiritual direction therefore took tire ivesenmystik further 
than ever before, making it a coherent process of spiritual growth, and giving 
it a solid theological explanation in more or less Thomist terms. At his hands 
contemplation became a distinct art, independent of tire life of prayer and 
moral progress for which the religious vocation had come to be formed. 

In the atmosphere of controversy in which the friars moved during 
Eckhart’s later years, it was inevitable that his teaching should come under sus- 
picion of antinomian and pantheistic tendencies. He was forced to explain and 
defend his position, and died at Avignon before he could clear his name; some 
though not all senses in which his doctrine could be understood were con- 
demed in 1329, though Eckhart himself was spared. One feature of his writ- 
ings which probably intensified opposition was their vernacular language: in 
spite of the subtlety of his doctrine, his sermons and some expositions were 
written in German - almost the first abstractions to appear in that language - 
for the Dominican nuns under his direction, and were therefore open to die 
use and abuse of the laity. His brethren continued the spiritual direction of 
Dominican nuns and other communities of women, giving rise to a Rhineland 
‘school’ of speculative mysticism; younger colleagues of Eckhart, the preacher 
Johann Tauler, Henry Suso and Henry of Nordlingen influenced other teach- 
ers outside the order, like the Flemish Augustinian canon Jan Ruysbroeck, the 
anonymous Teutonic knight who wrote the Theologia deutsch, and the ‘Friend of 
God of the Oberland’, who may have been the Strasburg visionary Rulman 
Merswin. They were the confessors and guides of a growing company of 
largely female disciples, many of whom described visions and revelations or 
wrote mystical poetry: the Dominican convents at Colmar and Toss, the 
Johannites of Isle-Verte near Strasburg, and the Augustinians of Groenendael 

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Currents of religious thought and expression 6 1 

in Brabant were active centres of Eckhart’s art of contemplation. Perhaps the 
most perceptive mentor of these communities was Eckhart’s younger confrere 
Henry Suso (d. 1366), whose life of ascetic contemplation and spiritual coun- 
selling, largely at Ulm, became a model for many of them, and whose writings, 
which presented the msenmjstik without the excesses attributed to Eckhart, 
were very widely read. In his Horologium Sapientiae, of which there is also a 
German version, he combined the determined introspection of the Rhineland 
school with the simple and universally popular devotion to the Virgin and to 
the Passion of Christ, which looks forward to tire devotio moderna. Suso recog- 
nised the individuality and variety of religious experience and the growing 
body of practical literature on the subject; and he was perhaps the first to state 
explicitly that die stony path of contemplation was open to all. 

It was certainly open to non-religious who did not wish to live in organised 
communities with a rule: to Catherine of Siena, for instance, who about 1367 
chose to live in the world as a Dominican tertiary among a various body of dis- 
ciples and associates, though she evidently had die services of Raymond of 
Capua OP as her spiritual director. Both his account of her, the Leggenda 
Maiora, and some of her own writings survive; among the latter, which includes 
a large collection of her letters and some prayers, her Dialogo of 1377-8 was 
particularly widely read and often translated. The absence of speculative lan- 
guage in her works may not especially distinguish her from her German and 
Dutch contemporaries, since the works of nuns such as Margaret Ebner and 
Suso’s biographer Elizabeth Stagel are equally free from it: speculative mysti- 
cism was the province of dieir mentors, dieologians like Suso himself and 
Eckhart. In fact Cadierine’s theme of the soul’s ascent from sin through 
various grades of discernment and love to eventual union widi God, and the 
identification of God widi what is and the sinner widi nothingness are stressed 
in die Dialogo, the fruit perhaps of her Dominican instruction. What was more 
particularly her own was her assertiveness and confident association of her 
individual vision of God with the need to reform the evils of the world: like 
John Wyclif, her contemporary, she identified these evils with the failure of the 
clergy to give a moral lead, and more specifically with the absence of the papal 
court from Rome. Interior spirituality or ‘self-knowledge’ must be associated 
with the apostolate of the Church, and with a reformed and ordered public 
religion, a theme taken up in the fifteenth century. For Catherine, the recall of 
lost sheep to conformity with God’s will was a work of charity, by which the 
genuine life of contemplation would be known. 

Catherine of Siena combined humility with the authority of holiness, an 
authority which seems to have been respected even by Gregory XI when she 
admonished him for residing at Avignon. It was one sign of the diffusion of 
spiritual leadership in the course of the century; in parallel with and in some 

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ways as die result of die proliferation of theological learning, die spread of 
knowledge of the art of contemplation at the hands of the friars allowed local 
spiritual counsellors to emerge, to influence a restricted clientele or even, in 
time and through their disciples or writings, a larger body of devotees. One 
such was Rulman Merswin (d. 1381), the Strasburg banker whose community 
at Isle-Verte had some influence on the upper Rhine; another was Gerard 
Groote. The most influential, however was the English hermit Richard Rolle 
(d. 1349), whose followers and writings gradually made him known, first in his 
native Yorkshire and then throughout England and even beyond. Though 
Rolle was evidently at Oxford about 1320 and must have had some exposure 
to die teaching of theologians, he had no obvious spiritual mentor, and looked 
back to the monastic precedents of the twelfth century. Like die German nuns 
of his own time, he described, in Latin and English, his own experiences; using 
the physical analogues of heat, sweetness and harmony and the popular lan- 
guage of love, he tried to convey the essence of an early spiritual crisis when 
he ‘knew the infusion and understanding of heavenly, spiritual sounds, sounds 
which pertain to the song of eternal praise, and to the sweetness of unheard 
melody’. 10 Rolle set up his hermitage near Pickering and then at Hampole; 
gradually, and not without opposition, he managed to diffuse his concept of 
the contemplative life, dirough personal contacts, sermons and guides like his 
Form of hiving, among his neighbours. His work bore fruit: besides disciples like 
the recluse Margaret Kirkby and the nuns of Hampole, after his death the bur- 
geoning Carthusian houses of northern England took up and proliferated his 
works, and the circle of clerics round Thomas Arundel, archbishop of York 
(1388-96), used them as a part of pastoral instruction to instil a habit of 
domestic devotion among the laity. This was in accord with the direction taken 
by Gerard Groote and Catherine of Siena, from the intense speculative mysti- 
cism offered by Eckhart and the German Dominicans to nuns enclosed and 
under a religious rule, to experiences which were less intellectual and more 
direct, which might be achieved not only in corporate or solitary enclosure but 
in the world, by the interior detachment of active laymen in what Walter Hilton 
called die ‘mixed life’. 

The two English spiritual writers who developed the theme of a contem- 
plative life in the world, Hilton and the anonymous author of the Cloud of 
Unknowing, were writing north of the Trent in the last two decades of the 
fourteenth century, and evidently knew and influenced each other. Writing in 
the wake of Richard Rolle, they aimed to correct the excesses of Iris physical, 

10 ‘Flagrante autem sensibiliter calore illo inestimibiliter suavi usque ad infusionem et percepcionem 
soni celestis vel spirituals, qui ad canticum pertinet laudis aeterne et suavitatem invisibilis melodie.’ 
Rolle, Incendium Amoris, p. 189, trans. Wolters (1972), p. 93. 

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Currents of religious thought and expression 6 3 

rather unrestrained language, and to bring the practice of contemplation into 
the sphere of approved devotional exercises. Both of them wrote their prin- 
cipal works in English for disciples under religious vows, and Hilton also 
counselled educated friends in Latin. The author of The Cloud, who was 
perhaps a Carthusian of Beauvale, learnt from the pseudo-Dionysius and the 
Victorines the idea, congenial to fourteenth-century theologians like 
Bradwardine and Gregory of Rimini, of the absolute incomprehensibility of 
God; and developed further than his predecessors the concept of the soul’s 
progress through the darkness of unknowing, the emptying of the mind of 
sense. Unlike Eckhart, but like Richard Rolle, he saw the contemplative life 
as a process of the will culminating in the love of God, rather than an intel- 
lectual progression. Walter Hilton (d. 1396) was a Cambridge canon lawyer 
who abandoned his secular life to enter the Augustinian house of canons at 
Thurgarton in Nottinghamshire, after a brief and unsatisfactory experiment 
with solitude. Perhaps for this reason he went further than his contempo- 
raries in defining the tasks of the active and the contemplative life; he con- 
ceived both, like his contemporary Coluccio Salutati, in positive terms, 
advising one friend, John Thorpe, to live virtuously in the world, and another, 
Adam Horsley, to become a Carthusian monk. His Scale of Perfection was 
written for an anchoress, though its precepts were more widely relevant. Like 
his predecessors, he distinguished three grades of contemplation, all of them 
characterised as forms of burning love, though he attributed a special under- 
standing to the highest grade; but he rejected the idea that it removed the 
contemplative from the moral sphere or from religious obligations. In prin- 
ciple contemplation and the struggle of the ordinary Christian against sin 
were the same, and in various forms the contemplative life was open to all. 

Hilton, like Catherine of Siena and other spiritual writers of tire later four- 
teenth century, extended the concept of die contemplative life from a special 
vocation for individuals living under a rule to encompass, albeit less completely, 
the life of the laity. Their precepts were probably most influential among 
recluses; though Julian of Norwich had evidendy not read Hilton’s works or the 
Cloud when she wrote her Book of Showings or Revelations about 1393, it is their 
equal in penetration and learning, and she was probably formed by similar coun- 
sellors; she in turn through her unrivalled clarity and simplicity of expression 
powerfully influenced others in a wider devotional world. Religious orders ded- 
icated to die contemplative life flourished, particularly the Carthusian commu- 
nities, whose numbers multiplied considerably in the course of the century, the 
Celestines and a few houses of nuns and priests of die new Brigittine Order, 
founded by die Swedish recluse and visionary St Brigit (d. 1373). One of the 
primary activities of these houses came to be the copying and dissemination of 
contemplative literature, often in the vernacular, for lay devotion, and it is 

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largely due to them diat so many copies exist of die works of Suso, Cadierine 
of Siena, and other spiritual authors. 

It was equally one of the tasks undertaken by the loosely organised follow- 
ers of Gerard Groote in the Low Countries, who were sometimes known as 
the Brethren of the Common Life; they too embraced the less exalted, intense 
and speculative form of contemplation, or devotio moderna, which in a general 
sense was characteristic of Catherine of Siena or Julian of Norwich. The first 
brethren grouped round Gerard Groote owed something to the example and 
spirituality of Ruysbroeck at Groenendael; but Ruysbroeck’s De gheestelijke bru- 
locht, spiritual espousals, developed a personal form of speculative mysticism 
in die tradition of Eckhart which failed to induence them. For them, as for 
Groote, contemplation was die perfection of charity, a state of mind from 
which pastoral work, especially preaching and spiritual counsel, stemmed. 
After Groote’s deadi in 1384, his disciple Florent Radewijns founded a house 
of canons at Windesheim which served as a focus for the communities of 
brethren, and eventually, either in itself or through its many daughter houses, 
came to be identified with them. The greatest work of fifteenth-century 
spirituality, Thomas a Kempis’s Imitation of Christ, was written at the daughter 
house of Zwolle. 

Ruysbroeck’s work widi its occasionally pandieistic phrases was sharply crit- 
icised by a theologian whose spiritual counsel nevertheless was akin to, if more 
intellectual than, die devotio moderna\]eva\ Gerson (d. 1429). It was a sign of die 
maturity of die genre that Gerson, chancellor of the university of Paris and 
heir of its long engagement widi dieological questions, should have read die 
principal contributions made to spiritual writing during the century, and have 
added to it himself repeatedly in his long literary career. The main body of his 
work was in the pastoral field, to which he brought not only the insights of a 
theologian but the perspective of a leading churchman and, above all, die 
psychological understanding of a confessor and preacher; and as a pastor, he 
firmly placed the starting-point of the mystical way in humble penitence, 
declaring, in his French tract of 1400 for lay use, The Mountain of Contemplation , 
that it was open to any believer. Moreover he meant what he said, pouring out 
a stream of homely images to express a sophisticated mystical theology: to pray 
should be like a beggar going cap in hand to the Virgin, to the saints, to Christ; 
the relation of love and knowledge in contemplation is like that of honey to 
the honeycomb which gives it form; die love of the world is a cage which the 
bird only sees when he tries to tiy away; knowledge by negation, which the soul 
must acquire, is like watching a sculptor create a beautiful image by chiselling 
material away. This last Dionysian image indicates his return to the ultimate 
source of contemplative thought; at his death he was working on a com- 
mentary on the mystical theology of the pseudo-Dionysius. 

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Currents of religious thought and expression 6 5 

Gerson’s reflections on the work of his predecessors indicate his scholarly 
sense of the achievements of tire past. Indeed he may be seen as the 
beneficiary of bodr the intellectual and the spiritual inheritance of the four- 
teenth century: as a pastor and writer on penitence he carried the programme 
set out at the Fourth Lateran Council and initiated by the friars beyond the 
pulpit, beyond the sphere of public morality into the realm of inner spiritual 
life, encouraging his contemporaries in self-knowledge, prayer and hope. He 
was therefore able to formulate, for the French clergy and court and eventu- 
ally, through the Council of Constance, for a wider body of believers, a public 
religion which accommodated the conscience and devotions of the laity within 
an ordered, authoritative but responsive Church. His theology brought the 
great religious issues of the fourteenth-century schools, grace, predestination 
and human merit, to bear on the salvation of souls and the call of individual 
conscience, and thus united theological and spiritual precepts in a coherent 
body of ideas on the cure of souls, on which his practical advice ranged from 
episcopal visitation to tire schooling of children. In this, though much of his 
thought touched on issues such as justification and Church order which would 
become acute in the sixteenth century, he was a child of his time. In the course 
of the fourteenth century, the formidable and now highly professionalised 
bodies of theological drinking, canon law and systematic spirituality made 
room for lay religious aspirations and for the lay conscience. Gerson, though 
a pioneer in this process, was only one of a host of figures, lay and clerical, 
whose personal religion and private conscience created the new religious land- 
scape of the fifteenth century. 

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Jacques Verger 


although there were still relatively few universities in western Europe in the 
fourteenth century, they occupied an unchallenged and powerful position in 
the development and diffusion of learning. The major centres of the university 
network remained the oldest universities, which had been founded at the 
beginning of the thirteenth century at Bologna, Paris and Oxford. Their pres- 
tige was unrivalled, and they attracted the largest numbers of students. They 
were both bench-marks for teaching standards and models for the institutional 
framework of newer foundations. 

A dozen other universities appeared in the course of the thirteenth century, 
but their influence was much smaller. Although some, such as Cambridge or 
the faculty of medicine at Montpellier, were almost as old as those already 
mentioned, others were more recent foundations, dating above all from the 
1 250s and 1260s, amongst them Padua in Italy, Toulouse in France and 
Salamanca in Spain. Others (such as Lisbon, Lerida and the law faculty at 
Montpellier) dated from the very last years of the thirteenth century, and her- 
alded the new foundations of the fourteenth. 

These testified to the success of the university, which was an established 
institution from this date onwards. Nevertheless, the rate of foundation 
remained modest. In some cases, this was simply done by papal confirmation 
of the status of studium generate in schools which had already operated on a uni- 
versity level for varying periods of time: this happened, for example, to the law 
school at Orleans (1306), whose privileges were extended to those at Angers in 
1364, as well as for the studium of Valladolid (1346) in Castile. Elsewhere, there 
were genuinely new foundations. Here, civil or ecclesiastical initiative was 
almost always crucial; henceforth, this increasingly replaced regroupings by 
university masters and their students in the quest for communal autonomy. 
Success was variable. In some places, above all where there were already 


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The universities 


schools of some importance, the studium generate developed, although at 
different speeds. But elsewhere, notably when the ruler arbitrarily insisted upon 
a site where there was no scholarly tradition, the planned university either never 
saw the light of day or collapsed rapidly. 

These new foundations continued, especially in southern Europe, until the 
beginning of the Great Schism (1378). In Italy, the universities of Rome (the 
studium Urbis, distinct from the. studium Curiae, 1303), Perugia (1308), Pisa (1343), 
Florence (1349) and Pavia (1361) were established by papal bull confirming ini- 
tiatives taken by municipal authorities or (at Pavia) by the duke of Milan. But 
there were also a large number of unsuccessful attempts to transform urban 
schools for the study of grammar and law into studia generalia by means of a 
papal or an imperial bull. This was the case at Treviso (1318), Verona (1339), 
Cividale del Friuli (135 3), Arezzo (135 5), Siena (13 57), Lucca (1369) and Orvieto 
(1378). Similarly, although the long-established schools of medicine at Salerno 
remained active, it proved impossible to transform them into a true university 
in the course of the Middle Ages. In southern France, the university of 
Avignon emerged as a result of the combined efforts of the count of Provence 
and the pope (1303). In 1332, the consuls of Cahors obtained permission from 
their compatriot, Pope John XXII, to found a small university in his native 
town. On a still smaller scale was the foundation of tire university of Orange 
by tire Emperor Charles IV in 1365, at the behest of both town and ruler. As 
for tire university set up in Grenoble in 1339 at the request of tire dauphin, it 
disappeared after a few years. Finally, in tire Iberian peninsula, when there were 
disturbances at the Portuguese university of Lisbon, it was temporarily trans- 
ferred to Coimbra (1308-39 and 1355-77). The kings of Aragon (who had 
already established the university of Lerida in the county of Catalonia in 1300) 
founded small universities in the two other parts of their kingdom, Roussillon 
and Aragon, at Perpignan (1350) and Huesca (1354). 

All these universities were founded in areas where Roman law prevailed, and 
they were chiefly concerned with the study of law. Their statutes were based 
on those of Bologna, modified according to local context. University founda- 
tions in northern and central Europe were much less common before 1378. 
The reasons for this delay are undoubtedly to be sought in die relative social 
and political archaism of these regions and the slow development of towns. 
Of course there had been German, Polish and Hungarian students since the 
drirteendi century, but they all went to study at Paris and Bologna. These indi- 
viduals were often wealdiy nobles, who had no particular interest in encour- 
aging native universities in their own lands, which would greatly have improved 
access to university education. Nevertheless, in 1347-8, Emperor Charles IV, 
a ruler with a passionate interest in French culture, decided to create, with the 
help of the pope, an entirely new university at Prague, comprising eleven 

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• Definite status as universities 
o Debatable status as universities 
(2nd) Second foundation 

0 300 miles 


• Coimbra 


Huesca I ^ 

U* Lerida Verpignan 

■ Heidelberg ( 

j noble pavia . T ™“ 

I ^ ^Verona f ^ 

0ra "9 e j . SnfJ^T^rraraWl 

st/T Avignon^/ Florence Ss\ 

Pl |tna. iA^oQndK^ 
^Perpignan ri (2nd) ^Perugia ^ 

l Rome X — 

( studium urbis ) \ 


Map 2 University foundations, 1300—1400 

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Map 3 Universities active in 1400 

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The universities 7 1 

faculties on the Paris model; the first decades were fairly difficult, however. Still 
more arduous were the attempts of neighbouring rulers, who wanted to 
imitate Charles IV. In 1365, Duke Rudolf IV of Habsburg founded a university 
at Vienna, but it languished totally until the 1380s. The universities of Cracow 
(1364) and Pest (1367) founded by the kings of Poland and Hungary were even 
less successful and disappeared very quickly, casualties partly of unfavourable 
circumstances and partly of the absence of continued royal support. 

This all changed after 1378, as a result of the Schism. While the university 
of Paris remained loyal to the pope at Avignon, the German towns and princes, 
together with the sovereigns of central Europe, declared their support for the 
pope at Rome. The crisis of the Schism reinforced the sense of national iden- 
tity in these relatively young states; it made their rulers still more determined 
to control the training of their clergy and officials and to provide it in their own 
lands. The masters of the Anglo-German ‘nation’ were in a difficult position 
at Paris, and they listened readily to the appeals of their fellow-countrymen. It 
was to a considerable extent thanks to these men that die universities of Prague 
and Vienna were reinvigorated (with the arrival in 1383 of the famous Parisian 
theologian, Henry of Langenstein) and those of Erfurt (1379-89), Heidelberg 
(1385) and Cologne (1388) were founded. Although the new Hungarian uni- 
versity foundation at Buda in 1389 was litde more successful titan the previous 
one, the reopening of Cracow university (1397-1400) as a result of the initia- 
tive of King ( Jogaila) Ladislas Jagellon, saw the dawn of what was to become 
one of the principal centres of European culture in central Europe in the 
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. All these new universities in northern Europe 
modelled themselves more or less on Paris, where many of their first masters 
had been trained; they adopted both the institutional framework of the uni- 
versity at Paris (with its rector, faculties and four ‘nations’) and its intellectual 
focus, teaching above all the liberal arts and theology. In southern Europe, by 
contrast, foundations ceased. The only exception is die foundation of the new 
university of Ferrara in 1391, for which the marquis of Este obtained a papal 
bull from Rome; but it was not really active until after 1430. 

No picture of the universities of western Europe in die fourteendi century 
would be complete without some mention of die expansion of some old 
foundations by the addition of new faculties, in particular faculties of theol- 
ogy. The papacy was very vigilant on diis point. Originally, its policy had been 
to impose a strict limit on the number of faculties of theology entided to 
bestow the prestigious tide of ‘doctor of sacred theology’ {doctor in sacra pagina), 
restricting diis to a few centres of excellence, whose influence was incontest- 
able and orthodoxy guaranteed. In practice, since Cambridge was still a minor 
university, this meant that Oxford (whose students came almost entirely from 
within the British Isles) and, above all, Paris had a monopoly of theological 

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7 2 


teaching at the highest level, although it was understood that the pope always 
retained the right to grant doctorates by papal bull, either direcdy or by means 
of die studium Curiae. 

The situation changed in the mid-fourteendi century. Paris and Oxford were 
torn apart by quarrels over doctrine which weakened their claims to a monop- 
oly. There was a whole range of local and national pressures for universities to 
be complete in themselves, each with die full range of faculties. The papacy 
thus adopted a new policy, whereby theological teaching was not concentrated 
in particular centres. Prague had had a theological faculty since its inception. 
After 1360, such faculties proliferated, especially in southern universities, 
where there was admittedly a general readiness to elevate local, mendicant 
studia to the status of university faculty with the right to grant degrees. The 
popes thus established a theology faculty at Toulouse and at Bologna from 
1360 onwards, at Padua in 1363, Pavia in 1369, Salamanca in 1396 and Lisbon 
in 1400. During the Schism, the pope at Rome, who had no reason to have any- 
thing to do with Paris, followed a similar line in die new German universities 
(Vienna, Heidelberg, Cologne, Erfurt) and at Cracow; the first regents were 
often masters trained in a secular discipline at Paris. 

Finally, we need to remember that the network of die studia generalia only 
represented the upper level of a whole range of educational institutions 
which probably expanded in the course of the fourteenth century. This is 
not the place to discuss domestic and professional apprenticeship, undoubt- 
edly the most common form of education at the period. Nor can we examine 
the private tutoring found amongst the aristocracy and some bourgeois families. 
But there were undoubtedly also schools drat were not universities. In towns 
and even certain rural settlements, small grammar schools, financed privately 
or by the municipality, taught the rudiments of education to children and ado- 
lescents. Of course there were also parish schools and others endowed by reli- 
gious foundations. Cathedrals and some collegiate foundations still had active 
chapter schools, indeed some were boarding schools. In some cases, tire level 
was comparable with that of some faculties of arts. Still closer to the university 
model were tire innumerable studia (of the arts, philosophy, biblical studies and 
theology) run by the orders of friars for the use of their own members 
throughout Christendom. 

These institutions - as yet relatively little studied, except schools in England 
- will not be examined in detail in this chapter. We know little about their 
organisation, the origins of their masters (some were master of arts), tire 
numbers of students or the content of their teaching. Nevertheless, it is very 
likely that all these institutions, and in particular the urban schools, became 
more numerous in the course of the fourteenth century. Such schools pro- 
vided future university students (notably future civil lawyers who frequently 

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The universities 


went straight to a faculty of law without any training in an arts faculty) with an 
essential foundation in Latin and logic. Even for those who did not go on to 
furdier education, they at least transmitted - in simplified form - some echo 
of the scholarly education developed in the universities. In short, the trend 
towards new university foundations in tire fourteenth century seems to have 
been sustained by a generally increased demand for education in a much 
broader context. 


The university was a stable institution in the fourteenth century, fully recog- 
nised by the different actors on the political and social stage and accepted as an 
integral part of die mechanisms of law and government. University autonomy 
had sometimes been the focus of great conflict in the thirteenth century, but 
after that it was not challenged. The foundation documents ( Habita of 1 1 5 8, 
Parens scientarum of 1231) to which everyone referred were amplified in each 
university by a multitude of privileges and confirmations issued by the ruler or 
by the pope, who controlled the actual working of the scholarly community 
{lihertas scholastica). Fiscal exemption and judicial immunity, independent organ- 
isation of teaching and examinations, internal control of doctrinal orthodoxy, 
control of the production and sale of university books were rights that had 
gradually been acquired or formally granted everywhere. 

Naturally, there was no reduction in the tensions between the student 
population - a mass of young, turbulent foreigners - and the inhabitants and 
authorities of university towns, who quickly lost patience with their lawless- 
ness and arrogance. Spectacular conflicts between ‘town and gown’ punctu- 
ated the history of fourteenth-century universities with brawls, murders, 
expulsion and voluntary exile. At Bologna in 1321, Toulouse in 1332, Oxford 
in 1355, Orleans in 1382 and 1387, the scenario was always identical: a chance 
brawl, speedy intervention by the local authorities under pressure from the 
population at large, a response from the university supportive of the students 
and characterised by a strike or ‘secession’, with order finally restored through 
the intervention of higher authorities, largely sympathetic to die universities. 
As a result, not only was there no further challenge to university autonomy, but 
the privileges of masters and students were generally confirmed and strength- 
ened by such incidents. At Oxford, they ended by exercising a kind of tutelage 
over the town. 

There was also very considerable economic support for the universities 
from secular and ecclesiastical institutions in the fourteenth century. This not 
only facilitated the development of the universities but also affected die way in 
which their members lived, and it raised their social status. As a result of the 

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ever-increasing number of papal reservations and provisions, die papacy had 
a constandy growing number of ecclesiastical benefices at its disposal and 
distributed them with tireless generosity to masters and students, accompanied 
by dispensations from residence. Income from such benefices was a regular 
source of subsistence for many. Towns and rulers also sometimes made 
contributions towards the living expenses of some students, but most impor- 
tantly they began to assume responsibility for the salaries of teachers. The ear- 
liest examples go back to the thirteenth century but, generally, masters who did 
not have access to ecclesiastical revenues at this period were subject to the 
hazards of student fees ( collectae ). The earliest recorded instance of a salary paid 
by a municipal authority to a teacher of law comes from Bologna in 1 279. This 
system became widespread after 1320, when it became standard practice in all 
Italian universities, as well as in the Iberian peninsula. In the latter case, teach- 
ing salaries were assigned on the ecclesiastical revenues ( tercias ) traditionally 
granted to the king. At Paris and Oxford, on the other hand, where the clerical 
character of die university remained much more distinct, the regents contin- 
ued to live from die revenues of ecclesiastical benefices. In any case, the 
increasingly high level of fees ( collectae ) and examination dues paid by students, 
often matched by private legal and medical consultations, remained important 
sources of additional revenue everywhere. 

The generosity of authorities and eminent individuals towards the uni- 
versities was displayed even more dirough the foundation of colleges in die 
fourteenth century. This, too, was a phenomenon which had first appeared in 
the thirteendi century, but was fully developed in the next. The first colleges 
were small religious foundations designed to lodge a few poor students and die 
earliest date from before 1200, but establishments of some importance 
appeared after 1250, such as those at Paris (Sorbonne, 1257), Oxford (Merton, 
1264; University College, 1280; Balliol, 1282) and Cambridge (Peterhouse, 
1 284). These were not only lodgings but also (as a result of the careful recruit- 
ment of fellows ( socii ), the presence of a library and a teaching organisation 
that complemented that of the faculties) real centres of intellectual life. The 
phenomenon expanded enormously in the fourteenth century: thirty-seven 
colleges, many of them tiny, were founded at Paris; five and seven were 
founded at Oxford and Cambridge respectively, but they were considerably 
more substantial. The institution even won acceptance in southern universities, 
with seven colleges founded in Toulouse in the fourteendr century, four at 
Montpellier and four at Bologna, including the prestigious Spanish College 


College founders were sometimes high-ranking ecclesiastics (pope, cardi- 
nals, bishops, canons of chapters), sometimes rulers (witness the College of 
Navarre founded by the queen of France at Paris in 1304, King’s Hall at 

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The universities 


Cambridge, The Queen’s College in Oxford) and sometimes important royal 
officials. Merchants and citizens showed much less interest in these institu- 
tions, which were of very little use to their cultural and religious preoccupa- 
tions, and did not serve their political aims. 

Although the social position of the universities was strengthened in the 
fourteenth century, there was no change in their essential structures. The two 
main institutional types which had appeared in the thirteenth century — the 
Parisian ‘university of masters’ and the ‘university of students’ of Bologna - 
remained classic models for reference, with all their essential cogs (chancel- 
lors, rectors, faculties, ‘nations’). Nevertheless, the fourteenth century was 
the great period of university statutes. The crystallisation of university 
institutions meant that henceforth detailed statutes could be drawn up, and 
they were much more specific than the general privileges or circumstantial 
texts of the thirteenth century. Statutes of this kind were promulgated at 
Toulouse in 1311-14, at Oxford and Bologna in 1317, at Padua in 1331, 
Montpellier in 1339-40, Paris in 1366; Salamanca apparently had to wait until 
141 1. As for new universities, they had a complete corpus of statutes from 
the very outset, drawn from those of an older university (Toulouse was a 
model for Cahors) or, more frequently, combining features from both Paris 
and Bologna. 

There were also few innovations in the range of subjects studied, or in the 
teaching programmes and the methods employed. The list of ‘authorities’ 
(Aristotle, the Sentences and so on) remained virtually immutable, while lecture 
and disputation remained the two essential forms of both teaching and 
examination. Should we infer from this relative lack of development in both 
teaching and institutional structures that tire universities were already starting 
to ossify in the fourteenth century? This complex question requires a careful 

The most important universities, those which attracted the great majority of 
students and the most remarkable teachers (Paris and Oxford for philosophy 
and theology; Bologna for law, but facing increasing competition from Padua, 
Perugia, Pisa and Pavia; Montpellier, Bologna and Padua for medicine), seem 
to have been characterised by remarkable intellectual energies in the fourteenth 
century. The two previous chapters in this volume give some indication of the 
great numbers of new doctrines and texts which were developed in a university 
setting at this period. The lively debates to which they gave rise show that intel- 
lectual passion and - despite a few instances of official condemnations - 
considerable freedom of discussion continued to be the rule in faculties of arts 
and theology. 

Without repeating what has already been said, we need to remember that 

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criticism of Thomist and Aristotelian thought was the central point of all 
philosophical and theological debate in the fourteenth century. This criticism 
was essentially Augustinian in origin and took very diverse forms. The 
product of theologians (such as Duns Scotus or Ockham) who were either 
Franciscans or secular clergy, it aimed to eliminate all determinist tendencies, 
simultaneously acknowledging both divine omnipotence and man’s agon- 
ising freedom of choice: grace and free will, predestination and salvation 
became the key themes of Christian anthropology and were to remain so for 
a long time. 

This challenge to the syntheses of the thirteenth century undoubtedly 
enabled, at least indirectly, the expansion of truly philosophical and even 
scientific disciplines, such as those which appeared at Oxford with the Merton 
‘calculators’ and the brilliant logicians of the first half of the century (Walter 
Burley, Robert Kilvington, Richard Swineshead) and slightly later at Paris, with 
Jean Buridan and Nicolas d’Oresme, commentators on Aristotle’s Physics. 

The teaching of law in the first decades of the fourteenth century was 
equally dazzling. The ‘glossators’ were succeeded by the ‘commentators’. 
Mastering all the resources of dialectic, these writers combined a synthetic and 
rational concept of law with a stronger desire to express the intangible teach- 
ings of the ius commune on the concrete realities of contemporary cities and 
states. In civil law, Cino da Pistoia (c. 1270-1336), Bartolus da Sassoferrato 
(1314-57) and Baldo degli Ubaldi (1327-1400), who taught at Bologna, Siena, 
Perugia, Pisa, Pavia, Naples and Florence; for canon law Giovanni Andrea (c. 
1270-1348), founder of a veritable professorial dynasty at Bologna - these 
men all represent the zenith of medieval law which was reached at this period. 
Although they were less renowned, the French schools made famous by both 
the professors at Orleans and die doctors of Toulouse ( doctores Tholosani) also 
produced a substantial body of works whose inspiration was close to that of 
the great Italians. 

Finally, dtis period was the golden age of the medieval faculties of medicine, 
both at Padua and Bologna (where human dissection appeared under Mondino 
dei Liuzzi (1 276-1328)), and at Montpellier. The medical faculty here saw dis- 
tinguished doctors such as Arnau de Vilanova (<r. 1 240-13 1 1), whose return to 
Galenism reflected a desire to create an essentially rational medical discipline, 
but which did not, nevertheless, lose sight of its therapeutic purpose. Guy de 
Chauliac (c. 1300—68), the famous author of La grande chirurgie , was another 
member of die Montpellier faculty of medicine. 

These brief outlines are sufficient to demonstrate that the intellectual 
creativity of the great universities was in no way diminished in the fourteenth 
century. Moreover, it is important to emphasise diat these new doctrines were 
generally in profound agreement with the social and mental expectations of 

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The universities 


the period in a wide range of disciplines (preaching, political science, etc). 
They brought their authors great rewards. Bradwardine (one of the great 
Oxford ‘calculators’) became archbishop of Canterbury, Emperor Charles IV 
made Bartolus da Sassoferrato his councillor and gave him permission to add 
the imperial arms to his own coat. Oresme worked closely with Charles V of 
France, while Guy de Chauliac was doctor to three popes. On a broader scale, 
it could be said that the innovatory value of university teaching was clearly dis- 
cerned by contemporaries and undoubtedly contributed to the success and 
the social advancement of university studies and those who had pursued 

However, this intellectual brilliance should not be allowed to conceal darker 
aspects. Everywhere, there were also uninspired teachers who followed tradi- 
tional doctrinal teaching. These sometimes even became official doctrines, 
such as Thomism with the Dominicans after 1309, or Scotism (admittedly sus- 
ceptible to various interpretations) amongst the Franciscans. Prudence led 
other regents to a simple eclecticism. 

On the other hand, the successes just mentioned took place above all in the 
oldest and most important universities. In the less important universities, in 
particular new foundations, there was only a distant echo of these great 
debates, partly because of the influence of largely local recruitment. Less dis- 
tinguished teachers and students concerned above all to obtain the degrees 
which were essential for a successful career were easily satisfied with an 
unimaginative and undemanding curriculum. At the most, we can assume that 
die prescribed courses were still fairly well respected in the fourteenth century 
and that, as a result, graduate competence corresponded by and large to the 
criteria laid down in the statutes. 

This relatively optimistic overall picture of die education disseminated by 
the universities of the period should, nevertheless, not obscure the fact that 
they were unable to free themselves from the limits and constraints inherited 
from previous centuries. These limits operated especially in relation to the 
stress placed on authorities, the scholastic method and the narrow framework 
of traditional systems of classification in academic disciplines, as well as the 
social prejudices of die students ( scolares ). There is consequendy as much 
reason in the fourteenth as in the thirteenth century to deplore the stifling of 
biblical exegesis by the primacy of speculative theology, the marginalisation of 
sciences proper, the continued exclusion of technology, history, die classics, 
vernacular literature and oriental languages (despite the canon Inter Sollicitudines 
of the Council of Vienne, 1 3 1 2), as well as customary law. It is true that direct 
criticism of die university system was still rare, despite die reservations of the 
earliest humanists (Petrarch) and die disappointment sometimes expressed by 
mystics from Master Eckhart to Gerard Groote. But no one risked a radical 

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challenge to an institution whose intellectual fertility seemed far from 
exhausted and whose social and political importance was more evident than 
ever before. 


It is difficult to be exact about the composition of student populations in die 
west in the fourteenth century. It has nevertheless been possible to assess the 
size of particular universities. From around 1300, Bologna had well over 2,000 
students. Elsewhere, there have been estimates above all for the end of the 
century, when source material becomes somewhat richer (with the earliest 
matriculation registers and rolls of papal petitions). The Black Death of 1348 
and the epidemics that followed do not seem to have resulted in any lasting 
reduction in numbers, because the social need was so strong. Around 
1380-1400, there were as many as 4,000 students at Paris (three-quarters of 
them in the faculty of arts), with 1 , 500 at Oxford, and well over 1 ,000 at Prague, 
Toulouse and Avignon (die last largely because of the presence of die papacy). 
But elsewhere, numbers dropped to well below this figure: 500-700 is proba- 
bly a reasonable estimate for the universities of Cambridge, Montpellier, 
Angers and Orleans. And the studia generalia which were still smaller (for 
example, Cahors in France) had to be content widi a few dozen students. 

We know just as litde about die composition of these groups of students. 
This was self-evidently a mobile population. Geographical mobility should not 
be overestimated, however. The major currents were those which brought stu- 
dents from the German lands and central Europe to Italy on die one hand 
(Bologna, Padua) and to Paris on the other. With much lower numbers, the 
medical university at Montpellier seems to have had a very wide area of recruit- 
ment. But elsewhere student mobility rarely went beyond national boundaries. 
The induence of Oxford and Cambridge extended essentially over die British 
Isles, that of Salamanca and Valladolid in Castile; Lisbon and Coimbra in 
Portugal. Italian students virtually never crossed the Alps, and the universities 
of southern France drew their students principally from the south of the 
kingdom and from neighbouring Catalonia and Aragon, where the national 
universities (Lerida, Huesca, Perpignan) remained very small. 

Social mobility is still more difficult to define. Noble students (mainly from 
the lower and middle nobility) are the best-documented group, but their per- 
centage varied considerably. There were not many of them (fewer than 5 per 
cent) in Mediterranean regions where they were in competition with the urban 
patriciate, nor in the famous arts faculties of Paris and Oxford, which seem to 
have had a significant intake with rural and relatively lowly origins. On the 
other hand, it seems that they represented up to 20 per cent of the students 

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The universities 


from the empire who were prepared to travel to France or Italy to study; the 
German ‘nation’ had a fairly aristocratic cast everywhere. 

University education offered real opportunities for social advancement. 
At least it did for those with a minimum of finance who had obtained a 
degree, for in the fourteenth century there was still a significant proportion 
of students — possibly the majority — which undoubtedly failed to graduate. 
We are largely ignorant of the destiny of these individuals. For graduates, on 
the other hand, and especially for licentiates and doctors of higher faculties, 
fine career prospects opened up, leading to prestigious and lucrative posts. 
When one member of a family gained a university qualification, it was often 
a decisive stage in their social ascent, sometimes the first step on the road to 
nobility. Nevertheless, we must be cautious in talking of the ‘professionali- 
sation’ of university qualifications. Rather than any specific technical com- 
petence, they endorsed the mastery of a relatively theoretical and socially 
prestigious body of knowledge (Latin, dialectic, Aristotelian philosophy, 
Roman law, scholastic theology), while at the same time, there were net- 
works of useful contacts, where former graduates and benevolent pro- 
tectors combined their efforts to support the promotion of their young 
colleagues and proteges. 

The Church was especially well disposed, substantially financing their 
studies and then opening the door to an ecclesiastical career to graduates. At 
die curia, the higher echelons of the papal administration were practically con- 
trolled by some forty doctors and licentiates, mainly qualified in civil or canon 
law. The episcopate was also very often composed of graduates and civil 
lawyers: it has been calculated that they constituted at least 50 per cent of the 
Avignon curia and as many as 70 per cent of the English episcopate in the reign 
of Edward III (1327-77). It was the same with cathedral chapters: around the 
middle of the century, 43 per cent of the canons of Laon and 64 per cent of 
diose at Tournai were graduates, of whom more than half were from a higher 
faculty. These figures varied from country to country and were much higher in 
northern France and in England (where it was not unusual even to find gradu- 
ates amongst the parish clergy) than in the Iberian peninsula or die empire. 
Fewer than one diird of die canons of German chapters had followed any 
form of university study in the fourteenth century. 

Service with individuals, with towns or rulers also offered an increasing 
number of openings to graduates, masters of arts and, above all, law gradu- 
ates. In the fourteenth century, central law courts (such as the parlement of 
Paris) were in the hands of professional civil lawyers from the universities. 
Even in the provinces, the middle ranks of die royal administration employed 
some doctors or licentiates. The position was die same in the tribunals and 
chanceries of Italian towns. And doctors of medicine who did not teach had 

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no difficulty in finding employment in the entourages of princes, great men 
and prelates. 

Fourteenth-century academics were perfecdy aware of the social dignity of 
their work and tides (well established from this date onwards) and gave it 
visible expression. Their taste for grandeur and precedence, together with a 
highly developed sense of hierarchy, infiltrated every aspect of university life. 
It was articulated in the continual increases in examination fees and the osten- 
tatious pomp of university ceremonies. Some of die most substantial colleges 
founded in the fourteenth century, such as the College de Navarre at Paris 
(1304), the Spanish College at Bologna (1367) or New College at Oxford (1379) 
expressed this new attitude in their luxurious buildings, important libraries and 
avowedly ‘elitist’ recruitment. 

We should not anticipate events, however. Although, as we have seen, four- 
teenth-century universities still had great intellectual energies, it is important 
not to exaggerate either their professionalism or their social exclusiveness. 
Exceptional individual achievement, such as that of Jean Gerson at Paris or 
William of Wykeham in England were evidence that university education 
remained generally accessible to those with the necessary intellectual abilities. 
There was still something of the universalism that had determined the shape 
of these studies in the thirteenth century. Here, as in many other areas, it was 
the Great Schism which divided the west in 1378, precipitating a latent crisis. 

epilogue: universities and the great schism 

In one sense, die Schism undoubtedly gave new life to die old universalism. 
Faced with the collapse of papal authority and die unrest of the faithful, 
academics, led by Parisian theologians and canon lawyers, believed that they had 
been appointed to the task, if not of assuming power in die Church themselves, 
then at least of advising prelates and rulers, putting forward solutions and advo- 
cating means by which die crisis might be overcome. Despite pressure from the 
crown, die university of Paris took several months to rally to die Avignonese 
pope, Clement VII, and there were intense discussions between ardent 
‘Clementists’ and advocates of a general council and those who advocated the 
resignation of both popes, possibly underpinned by a policy of neutrality or 
withdrawal of obedience. The debate spread from Paris to the universities of 
southern France, where there was unwavering support for the Avignonese 
cause. It also spread to universities in continued obedience to Rome, such as 
Oxford, Bologna, Prague and, above all, the new German universities where 
Henry of Langenstein (who had gone from Paris to Vienna) had great author- 
ity. While die claims of Clement VII and his supporters were rejected, there was 
also insistence on the urgent need for reform and die possible advantage of a 

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The universities 

council. Stilled for a while, this debate was energetically resumed after 1392, in 
response to tire intransigence of the rival popes. In 1398, members of the uni- 
versity of Paris were largely responsible for tire ‘withdrawal of obedience’ of 
tire kingdom of France. 

Within France, only the university of Toulouse opposed this move. Since it 
was not followed by any other universities or rulers in the west, this premature 
decision had to be rescinded in 1403. Many members of the university of Paris 
greeted the ‘restitution of obedience’ with relief; they sent to Avignon the long 
roll of petitions (requests for papal dispensation), which they had foresworn 
in 1394 in order to demonstrate their reservations about the accession of 
Benedict XIII. In fact, an increasing number of university members realised 
that, although the need to combat the Schism was undiminished, tire university 
itself could only profit from the conflict. 

Bishops and rulers still undoubtedly sought advice from the university, but 
they did not have either die financial resources (in die form of ecclesiastical 
benefices) or the guarantees of autonomy assured by die papacy before 1378. 
The division of Christendom into two rival obediences resulted, as we have 
seen, in the creation of new universities and faculties; Paris in particular lost 
some of its clientele and its international influence. Recruitment there became 
more regionalised (as it was in smaller or more recent universities) drawing 
largely on the northern half of the kingdom of France. Everywhere, the col- 
lapse of papal power left the way open for increasing pressure from secular 
states and towns on universities. At Oxford, for example (despite the privileges 
of immunity that had been renewed once more in 1395), the university was 
unable to withstand the authoritarian interventions of the archbishop of 
Canterbury and, dirough him, of the crown. In 141 1 , after twenty- five years of 
vain resistance, all forms of Wycliffite teaching was decisively banned on the 
order of Archbishop Arundel. 

Thus, like many odier institutions at this period, without perhaps being fully 
aware of it, die universities were irresistibly caught up in the movement which, 
benefiting from the Schism, placed national churches and die modern secular 
state at the forefront of the political stage. 

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Paul Freedman 

as with nearly every other aspect of fourteenth-century history, the most 
important event affecting the medieval countryside was the Black Death along 
with the plagues that succeeded it periodically in the latter half of the century. 
Viewed from the safe distance of 650 years, the Black Death is usually presented 
in agrarian history as a demographic-economic event: a sudden radical diminu- 
tion of population that produced a series of dislocations in the structure of 
medieval society. There are two contradictory ways that scholars have come to 
terms with this staggering example of historical accident. The first is to relate 
all subsequent developments to the plague. The agricultural depression, peasant 
revolts and ruin of much of the aristocracy can be seen as consequences of the 
epidemic and its renewed visitations. To what extent long-range changes can be 
ascribed to the Black Death (such things as the decline of servitude in England 
and its strengthening in eastern Europe, or the crisis of the Church) remains 
unclear, particularly as one moves into the fifteenth century. 

Another approach is to minimise the impact of the Black Death by point- 
ing to other factors that independently affected society. Population decline, 
agricultural stagnation and widespread peasant discontent, according to this 
view, antedate 1348 and so the ‘crisis’ of the fourteenth century was already 
manifested in its early decades. The Black Death would thus confirm or 
forward developments already underway, as opposed to destroying violently a 
stable economy and social structure. 

These two interpretive tendencies are significant because they influence how 
the century and its upheavals are viewed, particularly whether or not the 
undoubted crisis in agrarian society of the late fourteenth century has an 
organic connection with what transpired earlier (and if so, how much earlier). 
Moreover, attempts to deal with the impact of the Black Death are intertwined 
with differences of opinion about the causes of the agrarian and social crisis, 
particularly between those who emphasise demographic shifts as the funda- 
mental origin of social change versus those who identify frictions within the 


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Rural society 


economic system that operated independendy of how many peasants diere 
were to work or to be fed. Impersonal factors such as population decline, 
caused by forces external to the economy such as disease or climate shifts, need 
to be compared with factors within the medieval economic system such as 
inheritance customs or the relations between peasants and their landlords . 1 


The agrarian economy of the Middle Ages was more diverse than was once 
thought. Rather than a mass of undifferentiated peasants universally dedicated 
to the cultivation of wheat, the picture now seems to vary by region and time 
period. Within the villages themselves peasants differed considerably in status, 
size of holdings and what they owed in obligations to their lords. The textbook 
model of the medieval manor as a self-contained unit with a single lord con- 
trolling villagers governed by uniform manorial custom is even less valid for 
the fourteenth century than for the high Middle Ages. Residents of the same 
village were often tenants of different lords, and there were tremendous 
differences among villagers with regard to how much (if any) land they held. 
Moreover, the tendency was for lords to withdraw from die active supervision 
of their estates and for rents to be converted from labour and produce obliga- 
tions to money, further distancing reality from the image of die self-sufficient 

The lives of the peasants were influenced by the nature of die family unit, 
customs and other solidarities inherent in the village community, and the 
impress of the seigneurial regime. There was considerable regional variation, 
but most European agriculturalists of the fourteenth century were subsistence 
farmers who also produced for a market and to pay a seigneurial rent. The 
interaction between the family’s subsistence, die market for agricultural 
produce, land and labour and the obligations of tenants affected the fortunes 
of peasants along with the obvious fundamental considerations such as the 
soil’s fertility and extent of their holdings. 

Everywhere in Europe there were words used to describe an ideal concept 
of a peasant holding. The mansus, hide, virgate, Hufe, did not usually have a 
standard size in practice but conformed to a notion of what a full peasant tene- 
ment meant. For most of Europe a figure of perhaps thirty to forty hectares 
seems to be what was regarded as a full holding, but a much smaller parcel (as 
litde as four hectares) was sufficient to support a family given the average 
quality of the land, the tools available to peasants and their obligations to apply 
their surplus to a seigneurial rent. Even before the fourteenth century, a rising 

1 Harvey (1991), p. 3. 

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8 4 


population, partible inheritance and die dwindling inventory of uncultivated 
land meant that most peasants had to make do with a less-than-standard 
holding and supplement their income by seasonal labour or the production of 
some commodity other than cereals. For the high Middle Ages as a whole, 
Robert Fossier believes that 40 to 50 per cent of peasants had less than the 
four-hectare minimum. 2 

Peasant households were generally small, essentially a conjugal family. 
Better-off peasants might have a larger household including poorer relatives, 
labourers and elderly parents no longer able to work. It was not uncommon 
for ageing parents to arrange lifetime maintenance contracts widi their chil- 
dren in return for ceding to them die familial property in advance of their 
decease. Because of the high rate of mortality and short life expectancy, die 
number of households with diree generations was not very great. 

The degree to which husbands legally controlled the property of their wives 
varied. In Mediterranean regions it was more likely that peasant women might 
own and retain property of their own distinct from that of their husbands and 
not part of their dowry. In general throughout Europe, die wife was seldom 
recognised as economically independent in law, while at the same time her 
exclusive rights to dower lands was generally recognised. 

Husband and wife were both involved in the production of food and 
income. It is common to observe that peasant men tended die fields in what is 
called the ‘outer economy’ while women were more concerned widi the 
immediate surroundings of die dwelling, the ‘inner economy’. Ploughing, 
clearing land, herding were generally male activities while the tending of dairy 
animals and poultry, the vegetable garden, brewing and clodi making were 
women’s work, along with the raising of children, providing meals and clean- 
ing the house. In harvest time particularly, however, women were involved in 
the fields and certain tasks (gleaning, for example) were regarded as their pecu- 
liar responsibility. 3 

This household economy fits into a network of relations within villages in 
those areas of Europe in which setdement was relatively concentrated. The 
degree to which the village exerted a significant induence on peasant families 
differed with the human geography of European regions, but also with die 
nature of relations between lords and tenants. In south-western Germany, for 
example, village customs were set out in often elaborate bye-laws (' Weistiimer ), 
but these were not purely spontaneous expressions of immemorial folk habits 
but resulted in part from the instigation of lords and for their convenience. 4 

2 Fossier (1988), p. 146. See also Rosener (1992), pp. 125—6; Agrarian History of England and Wales (1988), 
11. pp. 594—714; Freedman (1991), pp. 36—8. 3 Bennett (1987), pp. 1 1 5—17. 

4 Rosener (1992), pp. 1 59—60. 

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Rural society 

Historians have at times been inclined to exaggerate the solidarity of the 
late-medieval village, seeing it as exemplifying the tyranny of rural custom and 
conformity, or more favourably in opposition to modern anomie. More 
recendy the divisions within the village have been demonstrated in cases such 
as that of Montaillou in Languedoc and the differentiation among different 
classes of villagers has been emphasised. 5 In England, manor court rolls reveal 
a select group of village leaders whose relative affluence gave them power over 
local enforcement. 6 Throughout Europe rural communities regulated plough- 
ing, common areas like pastures and forests, and the informal resolution of 

The fourteenth century witnessed considerable dislocation of both families 
and communities by reason of the tremendous mortality caused by disease and 
epidemic and the ensuing economic instability. One measure of a weakening 
of communal bonds is increased movement of peasants from familial prop- 
erty, an increase in mobility. 7 Another is the growing market in buying and 
selling land. Demographic decline and economic stagnation after 1350 may 
have frayed the ties holding villages together, thus the accelerating land market 
might indicate a stronger assertion of private interest. On the other hand, such 
transactions may not indicate the dissolution of village and family ties but 
merely amount to arrangements within families or between neighbours. 8 An 
active market for land is not necessarily incompatible with the survival of com- 
munal institutions. The dichotomy between individualism and communal 
bonds is by no means clear for rural European societies. 9 Long after the end 
of the fourteenth century, its upheavals notwithstanding, rural communal sen- 
timent would manifest itself in continued and effective demands, especially 
with regard to the chief external factor affecting peasants, the seigniory. 10 


There were allodial farmers in fourteenth-century Europe, and many more 
whose connection with a landlord was vague, or based on rights of usufruct 
(such as the medieval Mediterranean adaptation of the Roman law of 
emphyteusis) that gave the nominal tenant effective possession. There were 
even a few areas, usually in difficult terrain such as mountains or marshes, that 
were able to form independent peasant republics (such as the Swiss Forest 
Cantons or Dithmarschen in Holstein). The overwhelming majority of 
European agriculturalists in the fourteenth century, however, did not own their 
properties in the modern sense of ownership. They worked land for which 

5 Le Roy Ladurie (1976); Fossier (1973). 6 Raftis (1974), pp. 241— 64; DeWindt (1972), pp. 206— 41. 

7 Raftis (1974), pp. 129— 82. 8 Razi (1981). 9 Ruiz (1987), pp. 423— 52. 10 Blickle (1992). 

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they had to pay a substantial rent to a lord. This rent took three fundamental 
forms that could be combined: monetary amounts, service in die form of 
labour and a portion of what the peasant tenant harvested. By the fourteenth 
century, payment in money was much more common than had been the case 
when die economy was too primitive to support any very extensive coinage 
system. Labour service could take various forms, from taking messages to 
carting provisions to working on construction projects but the most important 
aspect of peasant work obligations from the lord’s point of view was per- 
formed on diose parts of the estate he kept as a seigneurial reserve (die 
demesne) radier than renting out. Portions of the harvest varied but could 
amount to as much as half. 

Lords collected revenues from their tenants on the basis of more dian a 
merely economic relationship. They held jurisdictional power in many cases 
that allowed them to act as judges and tax collectors. They might impose 
monopolies so that villagers would, for example, be forced to have their grain 
ground for a fee in the mill belonging to the lord. Such constraints existed even 
when the peasants were formally free although they were clearest when the 
peasants were serfs. While France by ijoo had very few serfs, servitude was 
common in much of England where about one third of all households con- 
sisted of unfree persons in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries . 11 
Serfdom was weak in Languedoc, rare in Castile, increasingly common in 
Catalonia (affecting one quarter of die rural population ). 12 In Catalonia it was 
uncommon in die soudi (New Catalonia) and all but universal among the peas- 
antry of the regions around Girona in the north of the Principality. 

Such regional and even local variation makes it hard to generalise about 
serfdom. While it was thought to be a grave indignity, depriving peasants of 
the ability to appear before public courts or enter the priesdiood, its legal dis- 
abilities did not always translate into economic inferiority. It has been argued, 
especially for England, that villeins were often economically better off and 
more effectively sheltered by custom than the free but marginal labourers . 13 
Servitude created a bond but also a degree of certainty over permanent and 
hereditarily transmissible occupation of land. 

What servile status effectively symbolised was a degree of arbitrary control 
by the lord. It was the emblem of his extra-economic power, but this could 
extend to both free and unfree. The peasant rebellions of the late Middle Ages 
centred on arbitrary power, including servitude, but also such tilings as use of 
the forest or seigneurial encroachments on common lands, rights and customs 
that affected free as well as unfree tenants. Servitude not only created formal 

11 Hatcher (1981), pp. 6— 7. 12 Vicens Vives (1978), pp. 18— 19. 

13 Dyer (1980), pp. 103—6; Hatcher (1981), pp. 22—6. 

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Rural society 


liability to arbitrary and coercive power, it epitomised what was increasingly 
resented in the years after the Black Death: the perpetuation and intensification 
of seigneurial power, including but not limited to attempts to impose serfdom. 

For parts of northern Europe, notably England, the thirteenth century had 
been the heyday of demesne farming. Motivated by high agricultural prices 
and the ready availability of labour, lords directly exploited their demesne. 
Peasants worked these lands as part of their obligations or lords hired land- 
less labourers or those who had sub-standard holdings. In the densely popu- 
lated environment of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, the 
majority of peasants had inadequate holdings for their self-sufficiency. There 
was a tremendous difference between those who held land to support a family 
(a minority), and those who either held no land at all or too little to avoid 
desperation unless they were able to find work as day-labourers or could 
acquire income from a craft, brewing or other activity. High prices and the 
existence of a conveniently large impoverished group of potential labourers 
encouraged lords to exploit their demesne lands, relying on customary ser- 
vices supplemented by hired labour. 

Elsewhere, as in Germany, tire fourteenth century witnessed the continua- 
tion of an earlier tendency to replace a system of exploitation based on the 
seigneurial demesne ( Villikation or Fronhof system) by leasing out the manor 
entirely to tenants in return for rent. In the Mediterranean lands, agricultural 
exploitations had always been more dispersed and lords never had large 
reserves exploited by tenants’ labour services. Even major landowners, such as 
the great Cistercian monasteries of the Iberian peninsula, held lands for which 
they received substantial rents and services but not for the purpose of directly 
cultivating a demesne. In much of the Mediterranean, payments in kind 
remained far more important than labour or a purely monetary rent. 

The overall effect of the dislocations brought about by the demographic 
and economic collapse of the fourteenth century would be to remove lords 
further from direct administration of their estates. At the same time, however, 
they could no longer maintain themselves in the style they required by means 
of the relatively benign supervision exerted in the era of labour surplus. With 
pressure on wages to rise (as a result of the shortage of labour) and falling 
agricultural prices (the result of a radical decline in demand), lords attempted 
to recoup their losses by using their coercive power to squeeze more from 
their tenants. This could take the form of a renewed attention to servile status 
and an extension and deepening of serfdom, both intended to assert a more 
arbitrary seigneurial control and to enforce regulations against movement 
away from tenements that had not been worth bothering about when the 
supply of labourers exceeded demand. There were other possible strategies 
for landlords coping with radically shifting conditions (such as converting 

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lands from arable to pasturage or from wheat to less labour-intensive crops), 
but the contradiction between seigneurial power and peasant expectations was 
clearly the background to one of the most striking phenomena of the late 
Middle Ages: the frequency and violence of peasant uprisings. No longer 
capable of profiting from their demesnes and experiencing only limited 
success in degrading the condition of their tenants, lords would be forced to 
become absentee rentiers, but even in regions where there had never been 
extensive demesnes this withdrawal from direct exploitation coincided with 
a desperate attempt to wrest as much as possible from peasant tenants, 
an attempt whose success varied considerably depending on geography and 

In general, the preferences and obligations of the aristocracy and the 
method of organising their exploitation of agriculture required lords to allow 
peasants a high degree of self-administration. A substantial class of bailiffs, 
stewards and other functionaries was charged with enforcing die lords’ rights 
and assuring the extraction of revenues. The complexity and diversity of these 
revenues, however, and the built-in imperfections of a system of indirect 
exploitation afforded peasants a certain space for resistance or at least petty 
subversion of what were often in theory a crushing set of obligations. 

Although the tenants exerted considerable effective control over their prop- 
erties, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that this was a seigneurial 
regime, one in which lords managed to extract a considerable amount of what 
their peasants produced and exerted an extra-economic power over them. This 
power might be more potential than actual in good times. Many serfs, techni- 
cally prohibited from moving off die land, migrated to nearby towns, but 
during the late fourteenth century, such unauthorised circulation was less likely 
to be tolerated and from Hungary to Germany to England lords put into effect 
what had previously been regarded as theoretical rights of coercion. Moreover, 
where bonds between lord and peasant were loosened, this could work to the 
advantage of the former, as when fixed rent with security of tenure was 
replaced by limited-term leases that permitted the lord to eject tenants or 
renegotiate their obligations. 14 


The first part of the fourteenth century witnessed a number of man-made as 
well as natural disasters that adversely affected die rural economy. The most 
shocking and severe of these was the Great Famine that affected almost all of 
northern Europe beginning in 1 3 1 5 . It lasted for at least two years and persisted 

14 Genicot (1990), pp. 76— 7. 

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Rural society 


as late as 1322. The immediate cause was a series of extremely rainy summers 
and unusually cold winters that caused harvest failures whose cumulative effect 
was catastrophic. The damage inflicted by tire weather was exacerbated in 
many regions by warfare (notably in Flanders and the British Isles) and by epi- 
demics of livestock diseases. 

Laments about the disastrous rains and prolonged freezes appear in chron- 
icles written in all parts of northern Europe and this literary evidence is 
confirmed by tree-ring measurements (dendrochronology). There is some 
possibility that these conditions reflected a long-term change in the European 
meteorological conditions and it is conceptually appealing to regard the end of 
medieval agricultural and demographic expansion as caused by a fundamental 
change towards a wetter, colder climate. There is little solid evidence for this, 
however, and more likely that tire rain and cold were more random and anom- 
alous fluctuations. 

The Mediterranean regions escaped this particular terrible event, but they 
were not permanently spared. In Catalonia, for example, the year 1333 would be 
referred to in later sources as ‘tire first bad year’, ushering in a series of poor har- 
vests. Densely populated rural areas were more severely affected than thinly 
settled ones, but this is a rule with many exceptions. In England, as many as 1 o 
or even 1 5 per cent of tire population may have perished in the south, although 
in even more densely populated East Anglia, there was relatively little mortality. 15 

Recovery from the famine was quick, but the event serves both as an early 
indication of tire ‘calamitous fourteenth century’ and provokes questions 
about how much was due to an external event that could not be avoided or 
planned for as opposed to an indication of over-population, of having reached 
beyond tire demographic limits of what the land, technology and economy 
could support. 

After centuries of strong growth, the population of Europe seems to have 
levelled off in the late thirteenth century and may have declined substantially 
in the fourteenth century even before the staggering losses inflicted by the 
Black Death. It was the accomplishment of M. M. Postan to have devised a 
theory of this demographic change based on tire internal shortcomings of the 
medieval agrarian economy. Rather than blaming the population loss on purely 
external factors such as poor harvests or climate change, Postan approached 
tire relationship between agricultural production and population as an essen- 
tially Malthusian problem. In the absence of technological improvement or 
investment in agriculture, the countryside could not support continued 
population growth. Postan, in collaboration with J.Z. Titow, assembled indi- 
rect evidence for an increase in mortality rates after 1300 based on death duties 

15 Jordan (1996), pp. 118—19. 

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9 ° 


paid by tenants of the bishop of Winchester. 16 This increase took place not 
merely because of shocks and catastrophes but was a long-term demographic 
shift. Having reached extraordinarily high levels of population after several 
centuries of virtually uninterrupted growth, England surpassed the point of 
maximum density that its agricultural system could sustain. Expansion of 
arable land reached the point of diminishing returns. As clearances moved 
from fertile lands to less favourable soils and climates, the population could no 
longer expand on the basis of simply increasing the amount of territory being 
cultivated. Settlements and farms were already being abandoned before the 
Black Death caused, according to Postan, something in the nature of an 
ecological crisis of overpopulation, soil depletion and impractical cultivation 
of marginal land. The population losses of the early fourteenth century were 
thus ‘Malthusian checks’, a rising death rate that brutally but necessarily tended 
to re-establish an equilibrium between population and production. 17 

Recently more direct means of measuring population change have in large 
measure confirmed the Postan thesis of a structural decline of population 
for England although with more sudden than gradual changes. England 
numbered at least 5 million inhabitants at the beginning of the fourteenth 
century, a figure that would not be reached again until well into the seventeenth 
century. 18 Similarly high figures have been posited for France, Germany and 
Scandinavia. 19 

Some of the reduction antedates the Black Death. In his study of the coun- 
tryside around Pistoia, for example, David Herlihy found that population 
began to decline as early as tire mid-thirteenth century. 20 In rural Essex, on the 
other hand, diere was little change in population until the Great Famine which 
resulted in a 15 per cent loss. From 1317 to 1347, however, the population 
appears to have been reduced by a further 30 per cent. 21 Studies of manors in 
Huntingdonshire, Nordiamptonshire and Buckinghamshire confirm a 
significant decline of population over die first half of the fourteenth century, 
although the manor of Halesowen in Worcestershire presents a somewhat 
different picture. 22 There a decline in the rate of growth took place between 
1300 and 1348, but there was an overall modest increase of 4 per cent in actual 
population despite a 1 5 per cent loss due to the Great Famine. 23 

Some parts of Europe experienced only minor setbacks during the early 
fourteenth century. In central Silesia, for example, after some relatively small 
difficulties, the agricultural economy renewed its expansion until well after 1 3 5 o 

16 Postan and Titow (1958— 9), pp. 392— 417. 17 Postan (1972) and (1973). 

18 Smith (1991), pp. 49—50. 19 Abel (1980), pp. 21-2; Gissel (1976), pp. 43-54. 

20 Herlihy (1967), pp. 56-7. 21 Poos (1985), pp. 515—30. 

22 Britton (1977), pp. 132—43; DeWindt (1972), pp. 166-70; Bennett (1987), pp. 13—14, 224—9. 

23 Razi (1980), pp. 27—32. 

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Rural society 9 1 

(the region also managed to escape the Black Death). 24 In many areas, however 
(Provence, Normandy, Tuscany, for example), there was a reduction of rural 
population similar to what took place in England. 25 In Brunswick, on the 
estates of the cathedral chapter of Sankt Blasien, a substantial number of 
farms were abandoned after 1320, but this was due more to a succession of bad 
harvests and war than to tire agrarian economy’s internal tensions or ecolog- 
ical limits. 26 

The case of Brunswick points to a central problem of the Postan approach: 
die tenuous evidence for a Maldiusian crisis despite a widespread (but not uni- 
versal) population loss. There is litde support for his largely inferential posit- 
ing of an increasingly unproductive expansion into marginal lands. The fact 
that areas went out of cultivation does not prove the exhaustion of the soil but 
rather a more dynamic landscape throughout die medieval period. The clearest 
example is Spain, more particularly Old Castile, where population loss began 
in the mid-thirteendi century without any indication that density limits had 
been previously approached. 27 In this instance we can point to migration of 
cultivators to the newly opened lands of Andalusia, die result of the rapid 
Christian expansion after 1212, but in Germany as well, if not as dramatically, 
die desertion of villages was due to factors other than Maldiusian checks. 
For England, examination of die history of the landscape and patterns of 
setdement calls into question die crucial role of marginal land as supposed by 
Postan. 28 

It is hard to deny the overwhelming significance of demography, but its 
radical fiuctuations interact with the society in which they take place rather 
than supplanting, overriding or rendering irrelevant social forces. 29 The 
seigneurial regime was already under stress before the Black Death and it is 
likely that an agrarian ‘crisis’ would have existed without the epidemic. 
Nevertheless, the epidemic, by virtue of destroying an immense number of 
lives without touching the fields (thus unlike war), created new stresses and a 
number of new opportunities. 

The death of perhaps as much as 40 per cent of the population of Europe 
between 1348 and 1350 had immediate effects on the structure of agrarian 
society. Everywhere, widi the exception of a few regions that die Black Death 
for some reason missed (such as Bearn and parts of Silesia and Poland), the 
sudden demographic decline affected prices and wages and thus the value of 
land and relations between lords and peasants. On the other hand, the effects 

24 Hoffmann (1989), pp. 1 14—47. 

25 Klapisch-Zuber and Herlihy (1985), pp. 62—3; Baratier (1961), pp. 80—1; Bois (1984), pp. 50—3. 

26 Hoffmann (1989), pp. 197—207. 27 Ruiz (1994), pp. 291— 313. 28 Dyer (1989), pp. 48—57. 

29 Bois (1984). 

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9 2 


of the Black Death and economic or social reactions to it differed among 
Europe’s various regions, implying drat conditions before the epidemic were 
not uniform and drat regional legal and institutional structures affected the for- 
tunes of labourers and landowners as much as impersonal demographic 
facts. 30 

The Black Death may have accentuated an already existing crisis manifested 
by famine and a stagnating or declining population, or it may be regarded as a 
brutal but not completely surprising Malthusian check to restore equilibrium 
to an overpopulated and economically overextended society. A certain 
historiographic consensus, especially but not exclusively in Britain, has tended 
to minimise die effects of the Black Deadi in part because of a reluctance to 
credit randomly generated external events widi staggering historical effects. 
One minimalising approach is, as stated, to focus on antecedent trends that 
anticipated what would happen in the second half of the century. The other is 
to emphasise how quickly things returned to normal. These are related to die 
extent that if a reordering of the demographic equilibrium was already under- 
way before 1348, die shock of rapid population loss would confirm rather than 
abrupdy reverse existing trends. 

Where there is widespread agreement is diat rural population loss contin- 
ued after 1348 and created long-term radical economic and social dislocation. 
By 1400 there had been a continuing loss of population, worse in rural areas 
than in cities. In 1377, the population of England amounted to litde more than 
it had at the time of Domesday Book, much of diat loss due to the Black Death 
but also to the successive plagues of 1360-2, 1369 and 1375. 31 In the rural sur- 
roundings of Pistoia there were only about 9,000 inhabitants in 1401, com- 
pared with a population of 3 1,000 in 1244, an astonishing loss of over 70 per 
cent. The number of rural communes was reduced to 44 from 1 24 over the 
same period. 32 It has been estimated that over 3,000 villages have at various 
times been abandoned in England. Later enclosures for pasturage and creation 
of parkland were certainly most important and the largest number of English 
villages were voluntarily or forcibly abandoned between 1450 and 1550, but the 
Black Death itself constitutes ‘the pre-history of enclosure’ because die 
conversion of land to pasturage was motivated by the plunging demand and 
prices for cereal crops due ultimately to die series of epidemics begun so 
dramatically in the mid-fourteenth century. 33 

In Germany regions such as Thuringia, the mountainous areas of Swabia 
along the Danube and the northern Mark of Brandenburg saw a rate of village 

30 Brenner in Aston and Philpin (1985), p. 21. 

31 Miller in Agrarian History of England and Wales , in (1991), pp. 1—8. 32 Herlihy (1967), pp. 68—72. 

33 Beresford and Hurst (1971). 

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Rural society 


abandonment of over 40 per cent. The Rhineland, on the other hand, equally 
hard hit by the Black Death, experienced scarcely any loss in the number of 
inhabited places. Overall Germany lost 25 per cent of its villages between 1300 
and 1500. As Werner Rosener points out, however, it is important to dis- 
tinguish between places drat were entirely abandoned, fields and all, and those 
where cultivation continued even if die residents had moved nearby. 34 

Despite the desertion of villages and migration to the cities, the overall fall 
of population did not mean a proportionate abandonment of fields. To the 
extent that the early fourteenth century had been characterised by a Malthusian 
saturation, the demographic decline relieved pressure on less fertile terrain 
while the reduction of density of settlement did not effect a proportionate loss 
in die productivity of the land. Agricultural prices and the value of land con- 
tracted due to reduced demand while wages were under upward pressure due 
to reduced supply. The aftermadi of die Black Death would seem to have 
benefited those members of the lower orders with the good fortune to survive, 
and in many cases previously landless labourers now found themselves in 
unwonted demand and could significantly improve their conditions. 

In the long term (that is, by die end of the century), the agrarian economy 
had collapsed into a depression that affected other sectors as well. The changes 
in prices and wages as well as the later sharpening of economic crisis are some- 
times related to the Black Death specifically (as long- versus short-term 
effects), but more often to die series of successive epidemics that continued to 
afflict Europe. Thus for the lands of Sankt Blasien in Brunswick diere was a 
significant reduction in the number of farms being cultivated between 1320 
and 1340. The population declined with the Black Death and by die departure 
of many of the surviving tenants lured by better opportunities elsewhere. The 
immediate impact on the agrarian economy, however, was not so severe, 
perhaps because despite the early fourteendi-century decline, the region was 
still overpopulated in relation to its agricultural possibilities of exploitation 
before the plague struck. By 1400, however, the rural economy hence the 
monastery’s revenues had collapsed. One fourth of the farms were deserted 
and the monastery could no longer cultivate its demesne except by expensive 
casual labour. These conditions were due more to die cumulative effects of epi- 
demics after 1350 than to the Black Death itself. 35 

In a study of late-medieval Normandy, Guy Bois identified several stages of 
crisis affected by the demographic catastrophe of 1348 (amounting to a 50 per 
cent mortality) but also by the intrinsic problems of the feudal economy. After 
an initial period of stagnation between 1314 and 1347, the Black Death brought 
about a demographic collapse but not an immediate radical reduction in prices 

34 Rosener (1992), pp. 25 5—6. 35 Hoffmann (1989), pp. 212—24. 

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or dramatic increase in wages. The period between 1380 and 1413 witnessed a 
25 per cent decline in agricultural prices but also a significant recuperation of 
at least part of the population. The real economic disaster took place between 
141 5 and 1450 but implicated in this was not only disease but other external 
factors such as war and the internal tensions of an economy based on small- 
scale production and seigneurial extraction. 36 

The absence of an immediate radical effect of tire Black Death is confirmed 
by Postan’s findings for England. 3 In the area of Brignole in southern France, 
where most tenants held lands on favourable terms (emphyteutic leases), there 
seems to have been little change after 1348. Few properties were abandoned, 
the price of good land remained high and the payment of the annual census 
remained stable both in absolute terms and as a ratio of the price of the land 
being cultivated. 38 

There are, however, odier indications that show that the Black Death did 
have a direct impact on wages and the attitudes of peasants. While prices did 
not begin dieir rapid decline in England until tire late 1370s, tenants and labour- 
ers demanded improvement in their leases and wages. The earlier Ordinance 
of Labourers of 1349, confirmed by parliament as the Statute of Labourers in 
1351, responded to upward pressure on wages and was vigorously enforced. 
Manorial records suggest that wages were stable after the Black Death, but they 
may disguise evasion of the wage control legislation by means of cash pay- 
ments and other off the record inducements. 39 

The English wage legislation is the clearest evidence of the short-term eco- 
nomic influence of the Black Death, but there is considerable variation of 
opinion as to how effective it was. R. H. Hilton has found that it was initially 
successful in restraining agricultural wages until 1360 and that the upward 
trend accelerated after 1380. 40 The punitive wage legislation was part of a 
seigneurial reaction that attempted to preserve or even strengthen the lords’ 
position after die Black Death. Labour services and fines were increased and 
prohibitions on movement became more stricdy enforced. 41 Even before the 
English Rising of 1381, however, and certainly by the end of the century, such 
efforts had failed. The bishops of Durham, who held unusual political and 
jurisdictional power in their palatinate, were forced to abandon attempts to 
collect labour services. 42 The gradual decline of English villeinage was greatly 
encouraged, if not caused, by the untenable position of the lords with regard 
to enforcing die bondage of their tenants in the demographic aftermath of the 
repeated plagues. 

36 Bois (1984). 37 Postan (1973), pp. 186— 213. 38 Leclerq (1985), pp. 11 5— 28. 

39 Hatcher (1994), pp. 1— 35. 40 Hilton (1983), pp. 39-41. 

41 Raftis (1964), pp. 144—52; Brenner in Aston and Philpin (1985), p. 35. 42 Britnell (1990). 

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Rural society 


The seigneurial reaction was not everywhere unsuccessful, and even in 
England was not resisted simply by invoking demographic inevitability as the 
Rising of 1381 indicates. In Catalonia lords would enforce an even harsher 
form of servitude than what had obtained before the epidemic and it would 
require a full-scale peasant war in the late fifteenth century to procure the aboli- 
tion of servitude. 43 In much of eastern Europe, the aftermath of the Black 
Death marks the beginning of a process of degradation of a once-free peas- 
antry into servile status that would endure well into die modern era. 44 


There had been many local uprisings in European rural communities before 
the thirteenth century, but the scale and nature of peasant movements changed 
after 1300 and especially after the Black Death. Unrest spread across a wide 
area and was no longer provoked by disagreements over particular village or 
manorial customs but by social demands and expectations. 45 The most dra- 
matic of these conflicts were the French Jacquerie of 1358 and the English 
Rising of 1381 which convulsed the two kingdoms and had a short-lived but 
(from the point of view of the upper orders of society) frightening success. 
The revolts are to be understood as at least substantially related to the social 
and economic crisis that characterised the fourteenth century. In some cases 
(notably the Jacquerie) they reflect the desperate conditions of violence, dis- 
order and oppression. They are also in certain respects the outgrowth of a 
more favourable situation in which peasants felt more powerfully situated to 
put forward their demands. The English Rising of 1381 is often seen as an 
example of that favourite historical notion, tire ‘revolution of rising expecta- 
tions’ in which the failure to secure anticipated improvements in wages, tenur- 
ial conditions and status leads to more strident demands than in circumstances 
of greater oppression with less perceived opportunity. 

There are various typologies of peasant revolts that try to account for the 
difference between small isolated manifestations of discontent and larger move- 
ments of the sort that developed in the late Middle Ages. The Russian historian 
B. F. Porchnev identified three forms of peasant resistance: flight, partial resis- 
tance and open revolt. 46 Recent studies of both modern and earlier peasant soci- 
eties have shown the importance of indirect, everyday forms of resistance that 
could undermine the claims of die dominant elite without open confrontation. 

Gunther Franz, the historian of tire German Peasants’ War of 1525, dis- 
tinguished between ‘Old Law’ rebellions that invoked custom and were 

43 Vicens Vives (1978); Freedman (1991), pp. 179—202. 44 Brenner (1996), pp. 272—5. 

45 Kohn (1991). 46 Cf. Rosener (1992), pp. 238— 40. 

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prompted by a lord violating local practices and ‘Godly Law’ uprisings based 
on principles of general application. For Franz the former were by nature 
specific to one lordship or jurisdiction while the scope of the 1525 war is 
explained by the arguments over freedom and Christian equality made possi- 
ble by the teachings of Martin Luther. 47 Similarly Peter Burke posited a 
dichotomy between traditionalist movements seeking a restoration of an 
earlier just order, and radical rebellions that envisioned a transformation of 
society without reference to an idealised past. 48 Here the radical visions are not 
as tied to religious discourse as in Franz. 

Another taxonomy is one that distinguishes Messianic rebellions motivated 
by a fervid climate of religious expectation (as in early fifteenth-century 
Bohemia) from more practical uprisings motivated by a desire for social mobil- 
ity. Guy Fourquin adds a third category in which an exceptional political or 
fiscal crisis precipitated uprisings (as with both the Jacquerie and the English 
Rising). 49 

These and other classification schemes have in common a desire to dis- 
tinguish between ‘serious’ movements that encompassed a large geographical 
area or that seem to represent a radical alternative and the normal discontents 
characteristic of peasant society which has usually been regarded as conserva- 
tive and resistant to change. While there is clearly a difference between an upris- 
ing limited to one or two manors and a widespread revolt on the scale of 
England in 1381, die typologies based on putative motivation tend to disguise 
the degree to which local issues could be framed in radical ideological terms 
and linked to questions drat transcended parish boundaries. In the large-scale 
revolts of the fourteenth century political matters provoked long-standing 
social and economic grievances. The impact of famine, war and 
maladministration in Flanders brought about a rebellion between 1323 and 
1328 that was provoked by onerous taxes but joined to an attack against 
exploitative lordship. The Jacquerie was, as Fourquin argued, the result of a 
crisis in the French state provoked by the batde of Poitiers, the tightened fiscal 
demands of the crown and the depredations of lawless troops. The English 
Rising was precipitated by the infamous poll tax and the unpopularity of John 
of Gaunt and the royal ministers. 

The involvement of peasants in protesting against taxation or corrupt 
administration is surprising only if it is assumed that diey were normally help- 
less or unaware of anydiing beyond their localities. Certainly one of the 
characteristics of peasant revolts after 1300 is that they were framed in terms 
larger than local grievances. The fiscal demands of the French and English 
monarchs should not be regarded as the sole cause of these revolts which had 

47 Franz (1984), pp. 1— 91. 48 Burke (1978), pp. 173—8. 49 Fourquin (1978), pp. 129—60. 

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Rural society 97 

as their target the conditions of tenure, the arbitrary exercise of seigneurial 
power and other local matters. 

The first large-scale medieval peasant revolt took place in maritime Flanders 
against a corrupt comital administration and its pro-French policies. From 
1523 until they were crushed at the battle of Cassel by a French army in the 
summer of 1328, peasants burned castles, drove out the count’s officials, 
administered their own territories and established an army. 50 The districts of 
Bruges, Ypres and Courtrai formed die centre of a virtual peasant republic 
stretching along the coast from Bourbourg to die Scheldt river. 

At issue in the Flemish Revolt were political and fiscal questions concerning 
the administration of Flanders as a whole. It was not exclusively a peasant 
revolt as elements of the population of Bruges and Ypres also participated. In 
its last two years the Flemish uprising became more radical and tended more 
forcefully to present itself as directed against die richer landowners and the 
Church rather than against the corrupt fiscality of the comital government. 
This rebellion thus combined an articulate political programme and the stim- 
ulus of what might seem traditional grievances. 

The French Jacquerie of 1358 was relatively short-lived but made a greater 
impression on contemporaries than the Flemish Revolt, in part because it took 
place in the centre of France but also because it was perceived from die start 
as essentially a revolt against die nobility. The Jacquerie began in response to 
die depredations of French as well as English and Navarrese troops who pil- 
laged the countryside in the aftermath of the defeat at Poitiers (1356). The 
royal government was ineffective except in attempting to squeeze money for 
die ransom of King John II and the nobility failed to protect tenants and was 
discredited by its poor showing in batde with the English. 

The peasants began to resist marauding knights in the Beauvaisis late in May 
1358 but this turned very quickly into a general uprising against the nobility and 
spread quickly to the region around Paris, Picardy and had a certain echo in 
Champagne and Normandy. The contemporary chronicler Jean le Bel believed 
drat the peasants were led by Jacques Bonhomme’ and die name Jacquerie’ was 
soon given to die revolt (the name occurs in the later histories of Froissart and 
die Chronique Normande). A certain Guillaume Calle was identified as the leader 
of the insurgents but die peasants also elected local captains and die revolt was 
in large measure spontaneous. It was suppressed quickly by die nobility aided 
by Charles II die Bad, king of Navarre. In a sanguinary counter-jacquerie, die 
town of Meaux which had allied with die peasants was burned and Guillaume 
Calle was captured and executed by a mock coronation in which he was placed 
in a red-hot iron ‘throne’ and ‘crowned’ with a heated iron circlet. 

50 TeBrake (1993). 

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The motives for the Jacquerie remain the subject of considerable disagree- 
ment. The nineteenth-century historian Simeon Luce attributed the revolt to 
an excess of misery due to the combination of plague, war, taxation and 
seigneurial oppression. 51 Guy Fourquin minimised its social basis, seeing die 
uprising as the result of a specific short-term crisis of the legitimacy of royal 
and noble authority. The peasants who were active in the uprising, according 
to Fourquin, were well-off, formed a small minority and were encouraged by 
outside forces, particularly the urban elites opposed to the rapacity of die royal 
government and angered by the prevailing disorder inflicted by the unem- 
ployed men-at-arms. 52 In her discussion of contemporary accounts of die 
Jacquerie, Marie-Therese de Medeiros also doubts that the Jacquerie was essen- 
tially an anti-noble uprising, but acknowledges that the nobles had failed to 
protect their tenants and had lost die aura of legitimacy. Her work demon- 
strates the unanimity of the chroniclers in believing that the target was indeed 
the noble class. 53 The Jacquerie, despite die fact that it lasted only a matter of 
weeks, would endure as a symbol of peasant rage and of the vulnerability of 
the upper classes. 

The English Rising of 1381 would also be long remembered as an explosion 
of rustic fury against the landed classes. A secular clerk in early fifteenth- 
century Oxford wrote a poem in die margins of a cartulary: 

‘Man beware and be no fool 
think upon the ax and of the stool. 

The stool was hard, the ax was sharp 
the fourth year of King Richard ’. 54 

Certainly die appearance of die peasant armies in London and their intimida- 
tion of the young king was recalled as a horrendous instance of the world 
turned upside down. John Gower depicted the events in a nightmare vision in 
which previously useful animals escaped their bonds to bring ruin and disorder 
to the land. 

Here too, however, the rebellion can be seen clearly to emanate from some- 
thing more than spasmodic anger or Messianic egalitarianism. The revolt 
began in response to government efforts to collect die third poll tax in four 
years voted by parliament in 1380. Insurrection spread from south-west Essex 
where it began in late May or early June until it included Kent, all of East 
Anglia, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and at least partially Sussex, Surrey and 
Middlesex. Two peasant armies converged on London, the men of Kent led 
by Wat Tyler and the Essex rebels. The Kentish forces arrived across the 

51 Luce (1894), p. 9. 52 Fourquin (1978), pp. 134-9. 53 De Medeiros (1979), pp. 1 1-23. 

54 Justice (1994), p. 251. 

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Rural society 


Thames in Blackheath, Southwark and Lambeth by 1 2 June and burned the 
palace of the bishop of London. The men of Essex, coming from the north, 
were allowed into London and now joined by the Kentish army they burned 
die palace of John of Gaunt and sacked the Temple whose prior was the royal 
treasurer, Robert Hales. The king and his entourage sought refuge in the Tower 
of London. A parley at Mile End on 14 June represents the high tide of the 
rebels’ fortunes. They forced the fourteen-year-old king to agree to die aboli- 
tion of serfdom and to have charters recognising the liberty of specific tenants 
drawn up. They also won royal consent to a uniform rate of rental payment 
linked to acreage, die removal of restrictions on trade and a general amnesty. 
Whether the rebels had more radical plans, such as monarchy depending not 
on parliament but a ‘true commons’ of ordinary people, remains debatable. 
Wat Tyler and his followers did take the matter sufficiently into their own hands 
as to leave Mile End and enter the Tower where they summarily beheaded 
Archbishop Simon Sudbury and Hales. 

The next day, 1 5 June, saw another meeting between the king and the insur- 
gents at Smi di field where Wat Tyler is reported by the Anonimalle Chronicle to 
have presented new demands, including the end of all lordship except the 
king’s, die distribution of Church property and the abolition of all bishops 
except one. Tyler may not have wanted to reach an agreement with the king 
and is reported to have behaved in an aggressively familiar manner, shaking the 
king’s hand and drinking beer in his presence. The mayor of London, William 
Walworth, attacked Tyler and killed him while the king managed to calm the 
peasants by claiming to lead them. The rebels were dispersed relatively peace- 
fully. Later the machinery of judgement was brought to bear against individ- 
ual rebels, but the rising and its suppression proved to be considerably less 
bloody than its French counterpart. 

To what extent the demands presented in London represent die grievances 
of the countryside at large is uncertain. Wat Tyler’s demands and the sermon 
preached at Blackheath by John Ball (which cited the couplet “When Adam 
delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?’) put forward a theory of 
equality and an attack on lordship. Rather than emphasising die radical 
demands presented at Smithfield, historians examining particular localities have 
shown connections between earlier disturbances and the events of 1381. 
Peasants attempted to use legal means against what they regarded as arbitrary 
treatment by their lords rather than attacking lordship as such. Many of die 
regions that participated most enthusiastically in die Rising of 1381 had a 
history of suits over servile status and attendant obligations. Tenants at 
Elmham in Suffolk and Leighs in Essex had attempted to prove their free status. 
Forty villages in die south of England in 1 377 were swept by a movement called 
die ‘Great Rumour’ in which seigneurial demands for labour services were 

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opposed by claims of free tenancy based on Domesday Book. 55 At the 
monastery of St Albans, rebels in 1381 dug up from the cloister die pieces of 
hand-mills that had been confiscated and used for paving stones in an earlier 
confrontation between peasants and die monastery over the seigneurial 
monopoly on mills. St Albans forbade its tenants to grind dieir own grain and 
the memory of die forcible suppression was alive in 1381 so that at the festive 
occasion when the peasants broke into die cloister, they dug up the stones and 
divided them into pieces giving some to each other in a ceremony resembling 
the distribution of communion bread. 56 

Events at St Albans also demonstrate the respect for what was believed to 
be old custom rather than a remaking of society according to die programme 
presented at Smithfield. The tenants of St Albans burned documents record- 
ing their obligations but at the same time insisted diat the abbot present a 
charter, supposedly issued by King Offa, ‘with capital letters, one of gold, one 
of azure’, that contained the fundamental provisions of their free status. The 
abbot protested that he knew of no such document, promised he would look 
for it, and eventually was compelled to write another charter granting the 
rather limited concessions that the peasants claimed. 57 

Given the variety of local demands and the difficulty of reconstructing a 
peasant programme out of the hostile accounts of the chroniclers, one cannot 
ascribe a single or principal cause to the English Rising. Most clearly among 
fourteenth-century revolts, however, the English example must be seen in rela- 
tion to the conditions arising as a consequence of the Black Death and sub- 
sequent epidemics. Earlier local conflicts over tenurial obligations were joined 
together by common grievances over arbitrary seigneurial and governmental 
levies, themselves the result of a crisis in land values and royal financing. The 
desire of the lords to resist increasing wages and to take advantage of the 
unfree status of many of their tenants to increase their failing revenues ran into 
peasant expectations of improved conditions, and resentment against serfdom 
and its indignities. 

Suppression of die revolt in 1 3 8 1 did not mean an end to peasant resistance 
in England. There would be five regional revolts between 1381 and 1405, espe- 
cially in Kent, Cheshire and Yorkshire. 58 More importantly, the last decade of 
the fourteenth century saw an acceleration in the leasing out of seigneurial 
lands and the consequent abandonment of demesne farming. Peasants in this 
period were able to use the threat to leave their tenements in order to nego- 
tiate better terms for themselves in spite of the renewal of punitive legislation 
regarding mobility and agricultural wages. The era saw an unusual degree of 

55 Faith (1984). 56 Walsingham, Gesta Abbatum Monasterii Sancti Albani, in, p. 309. 

57 Faith (1984), pp. 63—5. 58 Agrarian History of England and Wales (1988), in, p. 797. 

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Rural society 


movement and it is a reasonable conjecture that what the peasants had not 
been able to win by direct means in 1381, they were at least partially successful 
in obtaining by taking advantage of what remained their greatest weapon: the 
decline in the labour force. While it is impossible to set a date for the end of 
serfdom in England, there is litde doubt that 1381 marked the critical moment 
in its fading away, a process that die fifteenth century would complete. 

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Jean-Pierre Leguay 

it is impossible to deny that fourteenth-century towns were profoundly 
affected by the economic contraction that followed previous expansion, 
however much historians wish to avoid generalisation and make proper 
allowance for the very considerable variations between regions. The situation 
was aggravated by the poor harvests of 13 14-17 and the resulting shortages, 
as well as by the Black Death (1347-50) and subsequent outbreaks of plague. 
The result was a sharp drop in population levels, barely compensated for by 
the influx of refugees from the countryside. These factors, combined with 
high rates of taxation and manipulation of the coinage in some states, ham- 
pered commercial and manufacturing activity and exacerbated social tensions. 


European towns at the beginning of the fourteenth century were the result of 
many centuries of expansion; they were denser in the southern, Mediterranean 
regions (Italy, Catalonia, Aquitaine, Provence) and in certain areas of northern 
and north-western Europe (Flanders, the Rhineland, the valleys of the Seine, 
Rhone and Loire, the Channel and Atlantic coastlands). 

Urban networks were established in most areas. Economic, demographic 
and cultural expansion had reactivated the great majority of episcopal cities, 
dating from late antiquity or the early medieval period. Many substantial vil- 
lages that had grown up near castles, abbeys and priories succeeded in raising 
themselves to the rank of true towns, while settlement and clearing, as well as 
the need to defend vulnerable border areas, were responsible for more recent 
foundations, the deliberate creations of princes, secular or ecclesiastical lords 
and the pioneering activities of rural immigrants. 

The last years of the thirteenth century and the course of the fourteenth 
saw the building of the last of Aquitaine’s 300 bastides, the last ‘planted towns’ 
on the Welsh and Scottish borders (Caernarfon, Conway, or Berwick upon 


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Urban life 103 

Tweed resurrected from its ruins). In central and eastern Europe there were 
die recent and continuing settlements of the Teutonic knights, besides those 
that were the fruit of German and Slav colonisation (Brandenburg, Danzig, 
Rostock, Stettin). Half of the towns in Mecklenburg date from between 1250 
and 1350. 

N evertheless, it would be difficult to draw up a list of towns in each kingdom 
or great lordship. Contemporary administrators virtually never recorded settle- 
ments of any size; when political, military or fiscal considerations happened to 
make them do so, their conclusions varied from one estimate to die next. So 
in France, for example, there are extraordinary discrepancies in die gatherings 
of citizens at provincial assemblies, the estates of die Languedoc and the 
Languedoi'l: 91 towns were listed in 1302, 259 m 1308, 227 in 1316, 96 in 1318! 
According to the American historian C. H. Taylor, 570 places in all were called 
to play a part in these representative assemblies, but by no means all of them 
can be called towns in the full sense. 1 They fail to meet the necessary criteria, 
whether economic, demographic, institutional, architectural or religious (sup- 
porting convents of friars). 

Despite the quickening pace of urbanisation in the thirteenth century, Europe 
remained deeply rural; in some areas as much as 95 per cent of the population 
lived in the countryside. Entire countries (Ireland, Scandinavia, Portugal), as 
well as provinces such as the Auvergne or Brittany, or imperial Savoy, were still 
content with miserable little towns scarcely differentiated from neighbouring 

The rise in urban population was more the result of immigration from the 
rural hinterland (French plat pays, Italian contado ) than of natural growth. People 
from all levels of society - noble, lawyer and peasant - were attracted by offers 
of work, opportunities for business, security or tax advantages: they all came 
crowding into districts within the town walls, or lived outside in the densely 
populated suburbs. There has been fruitful research on both the geographical 
and socio-political origins of these immigrant movements in Florence, Genoa, 
Barcelona and Lyon. In the absence of any real population returns, lists of 
heads of households {chefs d’ostels) liable for direct taxation, lists of rent-payers 
with feudal obligations, rolls of adults liable for military service or married 
women (Annecy) enable the historian to make ‘accurate approximations’ (to 
use A. Croix’s phrase), despite the uncertainties surrounding both the concept 
of the fiscal hearth and exemption from taxation. 2 This evidence leaves no 
doubt that most centres of population were small; in fact, the majority of four- 
teenth-century towns barely reached or exceeded 1,500 to 2,000 inhabitants. 

1 Taylor (1954). 2 Croix (1974), p. 43. 

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The population of Chambery, the favourite residence of the dukes of Savoy, 
was undoubtedly less than 4,000 in die fourteenth century; Annecy, capital of 
the counts of Geneva, scarcely 1,500; the majority of the towns in the Forez 
(with the exception of Montbrison), of tire county of Comminges, the duchy 
of Brittany (excluding Nantes, Rennes and Vannes) and Portugal were of this 
order of magnitude. Against this background, towns with 10,000 to 20,000 
inhabitants were in a different class: York, Norwich, Bristol (the most impor- 
tant English towns after London) fall within this range. Any urban centre with 
over 20,000 citizens already had a great range of diverse activities and excep- 
tional influence in die surrounding region. Population levels were highest 
before the catastrophes of die fourteenth century: Paris, it has been argued, 
had more than 200,000 inhabitants, followed by Florence, Genoa, Milan, 
Naples, Palermo, Rome and Venice (all with populations of c. 100,000); 
London may have had 80,000, Ghent, between 50,000 and 60,000 inhabitants, 
and Bruges around 50,000; others (Rouen, Lyon, Cologne, etc) with levels 
between 20,000 and 40,000. Of die recendy founded towns of central and 
eastern Europe Lubeck probably had a population of 1 5,000 in 1300; Danzig, 
Magdeburg, Nuremberg, Vienna and Prague nearly 20,000. These are hypo- 
thetical flgures, and those relating to Paris and London in particular have fre- 
quently been debated. Nevertheless, even these approximations demonstrate 
both the expansion of urban populations and their limits. It is questionable 
whether there were between eighty and one hundred towns with more than 
10,000 inhabitants in the whole of Europe. 

The urban landscape had been modelled for generations to come in the pre- 
ceding centuries, above all in the thirteenth. Full topographical reconstruction 
of town plans reveals eidier ‘double towns’ (the association of an episcopal 
city founded in the classical period and a dynamic, mercantile and artisanal 
bourg, which had developed near an abbey at a later date, such as Perigueux, 
Toulouse orNarbonne), or complex, multicellular settlements stemming from 
the combination of an ancient centre with bourgs on its periphery, which were 
the result of major phases of urban expansion (Paris, Reims, Leiden). But die 
majority of reconstructed town plans have a less elaborate structure. To over- 
simplify wildly - for every plan is in fact an individual case - sometimes diey 
were no more than a main road, widi a lane inside die walls and a few secondary 
roads joining the two; sometimes drey copied some new towns and employed 
a more or less regular grid layout, which resulted from more considered town 
planning (Aigues-Mortes, Montauban); sometimes a radial-concentric plan 
was adopted, with die oval or circular extent of the town walls defining its 
outer limits and the subordination of die most important roads to a centre, 
occupied by church (Brive), casde or market hall (Bruges). 

Although the available space was seldom measured, except in Mediterranean 

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Urban life 

io 5 

towns (Venice, Palermo, Naples) and cultivated land was still to be found 
within the ramparts, circulation within the town remained extremely difficult. 
Only one or two major roads joining the main fortified gates (die High Street, 
la Rue, la Grande Charriere) were capable of carrying carts and other heavy 
traffic. The other ways, the maze of tiny streets, alleys and passageways, further 
divided into quartiers, or districts (Tarascon, Cahors) were no more than steep 
and twisting passages or boyaux (Chartres), darkened by overhanging houses, 
blocked by tools, materials and fildi. At the outset of the fourteenth century 
there were very few lords or communities with any concern for the mainte- 
nance of roads, the alignment of facades, or for public health (Saint-Omer, 
Aurillac and the Italian towns). 

The town walls undoubtedly impeded circulation. They protected most 
large towns and die extension of walls to encompass setdements on the edge 
of the town is also an indicator of urban expansion. The surface area of 
fortified Paris grew from a dozen hectares under the first Capetians to 275 
hectares under Philip Augustus, before reaching 400 hectares in the reigns of 
Charles V and Charles VI, with the extension of the town walls on the right 
bank. This was a considerable area, but in no way exceptional: Ghent and 
Cologne, for example, both covered more than 500 hectares. But the majority 
of middle-sized and unimportant towns made do with a fortress and a fortified 
church (Saint-Malo) and the walls were very far from being complete along 
their entire length, let alone harmonious and effective - despite the picture of 
Epinal familiar from numerous chronicle miniatures. 

Over the years - and often at great expense, jeopardising their fragile bud- 
getary equilibrium - European towns had been endowed with die wonders of 
Gothic architecture which were die focus of dieir worship, commerce and 
fellowship. The beginning of the fourteendi century saw the furdier elabora- 
tion of this monumental heritage. Building yards were busy at many cadiedrals: 
die choir of Evreux Cathedral, the nave at York, die cadiedrals of Utrecht, 
Siena, Florence and Lucca all date from this period. The numbers of parish 
churches, chapels and hospitals increased everywhere in response to the larger 
areas covered by towns and the changing structures of traditional religious life. 
The mendicant orders - Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Poor Clares - 
established diemselves with the support of bodi the people and the town 
authorities: 423 convents were founded between 1210 and 1275; 215 between 
1275 and 1350. 3 The presence of such convents, as well as their numbers, 
provide an additional means of identifying and classifying towns, since die gifts 
of die faidiful could lodge and support diree or four convents. The church of 
St Dominic at Perugia (founded in 1305) was a source of inspiration, with its 

3 Emery ( 1962 ), p. 3 . 

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three naves of equal height dramatically increasing the interior space. The 
nordiern communes, die consulates of Italy and Aquitaine and other advanced 
municipal regimes in England and Germany were all concerned about their 
official buildings, the places of government and commerce which constituted 
‘public palaces’: die Palazzo Vecchio at Florence (built between 1 299 and 1315); 
the belfries sited at die very heart of nordiern and Flemish towns (Ypres 
finished in 1285, Ghent finished in 1337); the squares for public assembly in 
Italy (the ‘piazza del Campo’ in Siena or the Florentine ‘piazza del Duomo’); the 
guildhalls of England and Flanders, French maisons communes or German 
Rathauser, such as that at Breslau - to say nodiing of covered markets, bridges 
and so on. 

The towns of c. 1300 certainly do not present a picture of decline, although 
there had been ominous portents on the horizon for at least two generations. 
The bankruptcy of the patrician class (the merchant oligarchy whose domi- 
nance was based on money and marriage alliances) was already evident in many 
centres, where their corruption and inefficient management of public finance 
had already been denounced and attacked. The rift between rich and poor, die 
popolo grosso and the exploited and humiliated popolo minuto , grew wider every 
day. The first urban problems sprang from this gulf, provoked by countless 
injustices and the exploitation of the misery of the poor: strikes (Douai), riots 
(at Ypres and Bruges c. 1280, at Paris in 1306-7), lasting revolts in Italy and 


Chapter headings such as ‘Era of the Apocalypse’ or ‘The epoch of tragedies’, 
‘Century of affliction’ or ‘Century of the Hundred Years War’ underline die 
profound fracture in the west during the fourteenth century: catastrophe was 
piled upon catastrophe; no town or generation was spared. The murderous 
triple procession of famines, plagues and war were branded on the memory, 
even when all the other factors which helped put an end to earlier expansion 
were forgotten. 

The vicious circle that had started in the second half of die thirteenth 
century grew steadily worse. At an early date whole regions and complete 
towns experienced difficulties with food supplies: Castile from 1301, 
Languedoc the following year, Paris in 1305. Particularly disadvantaged areas 
suffered regularly from malnutrition, shortages and famines caused by poor 
harvests, difficulties of supply and the shameless speculation of merchants 
and tax farmers, together with grossly inflated prices and inadequate arrange- 
ments for the storage of grain. People weakened by malnutrition were espe- 
cially vulnerable to epidemics (Orvieto). The great famines produced 

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Urban life 1 07 

wholesale slaughter in a world that was already overcrowded, especially in the 
towns, which were natural oudets for rural overpopulation. Northern Europe 
was affected in 1315-16; Languedoc in 1332 and 1375; Catalonia and Barcelona 
in 1333. In that ‘first bad year’ 10,000 died in Barcelona, 20 per cent of the 
population. In the few weeks between 1 May and November 1316, tire popula- 
tion of Ypres was reduced by 2,974 inhabitants, or 10 per cent. An eye-witness 
described how every day die bodies of those who had collapsed from starva- 
tion had to be collected from the streets and hastily buried in ditches dug for 
tire purpose in new cemeteries. Moreover, fear of food shortages remained a 
major concern of municipal administrations throughout die fourteenth 
century. It partly explains their tight hold over the hinterland {plat pays, contado) 
which was in any case often incapable of feeding the citizens for a whole year 
(Genoa, Venice), implementing authoritarian price controls and similar mea- 

Illnesses termed ‘plagues’, often of uncertain origin, had already struck the 
towns of the west more than once. At tire beginning of the century Seville 
(13 1 1) and Valencia (1326, 1335) had been severely affected. But these were a 
mere prelude to the Black Death, which heralded universal pandemonium. 
Carried in Genoese ships from Caffa in the Crimea, it reached Messina in 
September 1347. The ‘plague’ - bubonic plague, characterised by buboes 
(inflamed glandular swellings) and often accompanied by pulmonary 
complications and septicaemia - struck western Europe in 1347-52. The 
spread of this scourge can be traced from town to town: Marseille was affected 
in November 1347, Avignon in March 1348, Lyon and Toulouse in April, 
Rouen in July, Paris in August. It had reached London by the end of 1348, 
Copenhagen and Bergen in 1349, Liibeck in June 1350. The disease slackened 
its grip in severe winters, but was reactivated by heat and humidity. It dis- 
appeared for a while, to return with a vengeance every ten or fifteen years: 
these crises occurred in 1360-3, 1373-5, 1382-3, 1389-90 and at the very end 
of the century. A combination of circumstances made the towns particularly 
vulnerable: districts with high population densities, the presence of garrisons 
and refugees in times of war, the insanitariness of poor housing, as well as the 
promiscuity that prevailed there; then there were the rivers of semi-liquid 
waste, that accumulated in the streets and contemporary opinion condemned 
as an undoubted source of infection, and the proliferation of rodents and fleas 
which carried the disease. There are no precise mortality statistics, for the 
numbers cited by contemporaries (60,000 deaths at Avignon according to the 
papal doctor Guy de Chauliac) are sheer fantasy. Nevertheless, die severity of 
the outbreak can be gauged by the wave of panic which seized those in impor- 
tant positions (such as the rich men, richs homens, of Valencia) in their frantic 
flight to isolated locations; by the attitude and resigned comments of others, 

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and by the violent or emotive reactions of specific individuals. Higher levels of 
purchase of mortuary cloths (Lyon, Florence), an appreciable increase in the 
number of wills in notarial writing-offices (Besanpon) or bequests to churches 
and mendicant convents are all significant factors. At the same time there was 
a sharp drop in the number of taxpayers and apprenticeship contracts, as well 
as in the revenue from municipal levies. It has been possible to assess the 
impact of the epidemic upon population level from tax records. Two registers 
from Albi, the tax lists ( compoix ) of 1343 and 1357, show a fall in the number of 
taxable hearths in the town from 1,5 50 to 685. It has been estimated that the 
population of Toulouse fell from 50,000 to 19,000 between 1335 and 1405, a 
decline of 58 per cent over seventy years. Most assessments confirm the 
impression of demographic collapse given by the contemporary chronicler, 
Jean Froissart, who wrote that ‘a third of the world died’. 4 

Individuals in positions of responsibility at local level were well aware of the 
gravity of the plague, the speed with which it took hold and the dangers of 
contagion, although they were unable to understand the origin or causes of this 
implacable calamity, traumatising in its very selectivity - sometimes affecting 
mainly adults, on other occasions striking primarily at children (the mortaldad 
dels infants at Valencia in 1 3 62), the poor rather than die rich. They were reduced 
to isolating the dying in their homes, or in hospitals which became little more 
than places to wait for deadi; renting rough-and-ready premises, including old 
wine presses (Nantes) or huts (Annecy); introducing controls and restrictions 
on travelling, expelling foreigners — such as soldiers or merchants — who came 
from regions already affected; sometimes they even had to dispose of the sick 
before they were dead (Uzerche). Doctors and barber-surgeons were recruited 
everywhere, together with nursing personnel - but so were gravediggers. Every 
cloud has a silver lining; die plague at least provided a (rare) opportunity to 
clean roads and adopt public healdi measures, suppressing liquid sewage and 
night soil dumps ( bouillons et depotoirs) and organising new drains and conduits. 

It is still more difficult to assess the impact of wars on urban history - ‘wars’ 
in the plural because the Hundred Years War, interrupted by treaties, over- 
shadowed other shorter and more localised conflicts. We need only mention 
here the civil war in Castile between Peter die Cruel and Henry of Trastamara 
in 1366-9 and its continuations, the bloody struggles between various towns, 
rivalry between seafaring powers in the Baltic, die ravages of brigands in France 
or of mercenaries in die pay of communes or tyrants in Italy, the condicts in 
Florence of 1303, factional struggles (die Blacks and the Whites at Pistoia), 
vendettas and even urban manifestations of peasant uprisings, such as the 
revolt of English workers in 1381. Each period of tension was accompanied by 

4 Froissart, Chroniques , ed. Luce, iv, p. ioo. 

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Urban life 


sieges, pillage and massacres. The onset of peace might sometimes prove still 
more dangerous, with tire demobilisation of mercenaries, deprived of the pay, 
ransom and booty to which drey had grown accustomed. These dangers were 
of course unequally spread. Properly fortified, die great urban centres were 
better protected dian large villages and - unless there was some untoward inci- 
dent, such as treason or a revolt - they escaped the destruction of siege and 
chevanchee. It was only the unprotected suburbs that were at the mercy of die 
smallest band. The chevauchees of die Black Prince across Languedoc in 1355, 
dien in nordiern Aquitaine before die batde of Poitiers in 1 3 5 6, were campaigns 
of systematic pillage and destruction in which the suburbs of Narbonne and 
Carcassonne, and churches and monasteries on the edge of towns 
(Castelnaudry), together with leadier and textile workshops (Limoux), paid a 
high price. The worst excesses were committed by bands of brigands ( routiers ) 
operating around Paris and in the Ile-de-France in 1356-60; in September 1358 
die Navarrese employed by Charles the Bad, who had just failed to take die 
town of Amiens, took vengeance by firing die suburbs: according to Froissart, 
over 3,000 houses were destroyed in die blaze. Even making allowance for 
exaggerations, there is no doubt that sixty years later there were still traces of 
ruins and charred walls. The presence of a garrison was just as dangerous for 
the area in which diey lodged as for the hinterland which they systematically 
ravaged, molested and attacked ( travailliet ; herriet et guerriet). English troops quar- 
tered at Lusignan in Poitou were responsible for ravages that discredited die 
occupying forces in die eyes of die indigenous population. Finally, there was 
one other form of destruction in time of war: the deliberate burning of houses 
bodi to free a clear line of fire and so diat diey could not offer cover to any 
assailant. Even when it was justified, this decision had catastrophic effects 
(Tours, Poitiers). 

Yet the trilogy of war, plague and famine, however catastrophic, cannot in 
themselves entirely explain the difficulties experienced by most of the towns 
of western Europe in the fourteenth century. There were also individual 
dramas in the general crisis. A freak flood at Narbonne in 1316 caused 300 
dwellings to disappear in the course of a single night. Fires were also frequent, 
since the majority of homes were still built of wood or cob and roofed with 
diatch: 35 5 houses were destroyed in Strasburg in 1298, while an unidentified 
epidemic accounted for 1 5,000 deaths in 1 3 1 3 — 1 5, according to a Basle chron- 
icle; fire ravaged Montbrison in 1359 and an earthquake destroyed Montpellier 
in 1373. 

The problems associated with die emergent modern state, die demands of 
kings and princes confronted with urgent demands for money to establish 
dieir administrations and diplomacy, levy armies and sustain their lifestyle must 
also bear some responsibility for crisis in die towns. The citizens constantly 

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denounced unjust taxes ( maltotes ) and exactions, complaining about forced 
loans, tire ever-increasing rate of indirect taxation (aides), hearth taxes (fouages), 
direct taxation (tallies) and the salt tax (gabelle). They frequently had to support 
three levels of taxation: old feudal taxes levied by local lords, new taxes 
imposed by the king or prince, as well as municipal levies to maintain town 
walls and garrisons. Like the peasants they had, in some kingdoms, to bear die 
consequences of repeated devaluation and manipulation of the coinage: 
eighty- five in France between 1337 and 1360, more under Charles VI after 1385. 
These measures seemed justified by the shortage of bullion and the hope of 
wiping out debts while at the same time increasing surpluses, but they dis- 
couraged investment by people of independent means, investors and mer- 
chants, while creating a climate of uncertainty diat was damaging to the 
economy and trade. Return to monetary stability was one of the principal 
demands of Etienne Marcel and of the delegates of the estates general of the 
Languedoi'l, meeting at Paris in 1355-8. The scorn, hatred and aggravation felt 
or suffered by strangers (the English at Paris in 1358), pawnbrokers, Lombard 
bankers, Jewish communities persecuted during the Black Death and living 
under the permanent threat of expulsion did nothing whatsoever to encour- 
age investment or die resumption of business. 

The city paid a high price whenever disaster struck or there was political 
condict. Civic life was disrupted or even paralysed for several years, and die 
consequences can be measured in terms of economic activity, social unrest and 
insecurity. Whole districts lay in ruins or were abandoned by their inhabitants. 
Fiscal records document case after case of desertions, habitually describing 
places as frostes, desbastives , dekeues et aivasties (Flanders); here and there, well- 
maintained houses had been replaced by ruined and deserted buildings (masures 
ruineuses, desherbregees). In 1375 town officials in Reims recorded falls in the rental 
value of houses of the order of 30 to 50 per cent. At the same time, royal 
commissioners visiting Troyes gave evidence in their report of the departure 
of the majority of overtaxed inhabitants: ‘[they] have left and are leaving the 
town because of die charge with which they are burdened, and only 300 
taxable heardis remain’. 5 The fall of property values in supposedly wealdiy 
areas confirmed the scale of the disaster. Calculations based on the invento- 
ries of the townspeople of the Toulousain made for tax purposes (livres d’es- 
times) reveal that the overall estimate of urban wealth in the area, estimated at 
1,750,000 livres tournoisin 13 3 5, fell to 460,000 livres'm 1 3 84 and to below 300,000 
livres in 1391. 

The situation was repeated at a local level from building yards to workshops, 
markets to tax farmers. However, we must refrain from generalisation. Towns 

5 Bibolet (1975), 11, p. 14. 

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Urban life 


less acutely affected, or those which enjoyed an extended period of tranquil- 
lity, recovered quickly, even from the plague. Lisbon was on the way to becom- 
ing a great Atlantic port in the fourteenth century; Barcelona only showed 
signs of decline at the end of the century; Avignon continued to exploit the 
presence of the pope, and - at a completely different level - with the return of 
peace and end of the War of Succession, small towns in Brittany were already 
turning the modest resources of their hinterland to profit and joining the great 
trade routes. 

The difficulties encountered in daily life were also responsible for the climate 
of insecurity that prevailed everywhere. Signs of discontent, uprisings 
prompted by misery and the exasperation of the lowest orders of society 
became increasingly frequent, culminating with a paroxysm in the period 
1378-82, which was marked by disturbances at Florence (1378), Ghent 
( 1 3 7 9 — 82), in towns in France and in the great French fiefs (Nimes, Le Puy in 
1378, Montpellier in 1379), in Germany (at Danzig, Brunswick, Liibeck). These 
revolts did not usually last long, but their violence took people unawares: the 
inhabitants hurled themselves on to the streets - tradespeople, members of 
guilds and their servants, building labourers, hired agricultural workers who 
lived in semi-rural suburbs (Beziers in 1381). The prospect of pillage lured 
many from the fringes of society; they were joined by agitators with political 
motives from areas favourable to radical change. Most chroniclers were 
unsympathetic and speak of effrois, commotions and communes , or use local names, 
such as the rebeynes at Lyon, the Harelle (from the rioters’ cry of Haro) at Rouen 
(1382), the revolt of the maillotins (carriers of mallets) at Paris (1382), the rising 
of the Ciompi at Florence (1378) and so on. Flistorical and sociological 
research has endeavoured to uncover cycles of violence, as at Lyon 6 or in the 
Languedoc, 7 tracing the increasing level of discontent to its final explosion, 
and emphasising the xenophobic, anti-clerical and anti-Semitic sentiments that 
resulted (at Paris in 1382). Efforts have also been made to identify revolts 
prompted by taxes and uprisings triggered by poverty, as well as those kindled 
by political movements and dominated by strong personalities, such as Pierre 
Coninc at Bruges at the beginning of the century, James and Philip van 
Artevelde at Ghent (1334-45 and 1375-82) and Etienne Marcel at Paris 
(135 5-8). 

It is more difficult to document the chronic insecurity experienced by those 
who had come down in the world, by the maladjusted and delinquents of every 
description, and by the endlessly scrounging gallows birds - to be found on the 
streets, beneath porches, in graveyards and at every fair and market. In normal 
conditions every social unit has a disruptive fringe; in the fourteenth century 

6 Fedou (1964). 7 Wolff (1954). 

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I I 2 


this element was swollen by the influx of refugees, with rural poverty 
aggravating the situation in the town, and exacerbated by increased destitution 
and the presence of mercenaries. The town then became a magnet for fringe 
elements of every kind, a pack of violent men, beggars or caymans , vagabonds, 
ribald men and trollops in ‘goliardic’ bands, besides professional criminals. The 
richest judicial sources to date, the registers of die Paris parkmentos the chdtelet . , 
which incorporate diousands of trial records or letters of pardon, enable us to 
reconstruct a disturbing subsection of society whose exploits were the talk of 
the neighbourhood. 8 Eventually, the towns became concerned and imposed 
constraints; in 1 3 5 4john II of France instructed one of his legal officers, Pierre 
Lieuvillier, to use all possible means to purge the kingdom of criminals who 
disrupted public order, citing ‘coin clippers, highwaymen, thieves male and 
female, abductors of women, muggers, swindlers, those who give false 
witness’. The ordinance proved ineffectual and die situation deteriorated to 
such an extent that, in 1 3 9 5 , the citizens of Paris were afraid of going out after 
nightfall, in case they were attacked by ‘people of low degree’. Legislation was 
much concerned with vagabonds and layabouts (particularly shocking at such 
a time of population decrease and labour shortages), prostitutes and die pimps 
and ruffians who protected them, whose presence was an affront to honest cit- 
izens. An ordinance of John II the Good of 1351 gave beggars three days in 
which to choose between work and expulsion, widi heavy penalties - includ- 
ing branding widi a red-hot iron — for those unwilling to work. 

But urban violence was by no means the exclusive preserve of down-and- 
outs. The citizen had every opportunity to have a drink and ‘warm himself’ in 
one of the many taverns (sixty-six in Avignon). Behaviour was remarkably 
impulsive: 5 4 per cent of the cases heard before the Avignon law courts related 
more or less directly to physical and verbal violence and brawls alone repre- 
sented more than 40 per cent of the total, abuse (injure) 7 per cent, while theft 
accounted for a mere 3.5 per cent of the total. 9 There are similar figures for 
Paris, Reims, Rennes and die towns of the Touraine. 


The picture of misery habitually presented by contemporary chronicles and by 
seigneurial and municipal archives should not blind us to the changes which 
were taking place in towns in die fourteenth century. 

Architectural expansion was checked neither by war nor by plague. The 
general climate of insecurity even encouraged military building. All over 
Europe audiorities took the initiative in improving or extending dieir town 

Geremek (1976). 9 Chiffoleau (1980), pp. 342-3. 

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Urban life 


walls, so that new areas were protected. Work was in progress at Hamburg and 
Pisa in about 1300, at Genoa and Regensburg from 1320, at Louvain, Brussels 
and Barcelona in the middle of the century, at Augsburg c. 1380. With the 
resumption of the Hundred Years War, sleepy French masons’ yards that had 
seen little work during the years of peace and demobilisation were rein- 
vigorated. And so the fortifications were improved in a number of French 
towns: Reims after 1337, Toulouse (1345—80), Paris at the time of Etienne 
Marcel (when die city was terrorised by both mercenaries and Jacques), Poitiers 
under die rule of John, duke of Berry (1372—1416). Everyone — the king 
himself, casde governors, local lords - encouraged municipal initiative. An 
edict of Charles V, dated 19 July 1367, ordered the French towns that enjoyed 
especial royal favour ( bonnes villes) to put dieir defences in order with a 
minimum of delay. Although many town walls were improved and towers, 
gateways and curtain walls better adapted to changes in siegecraft, neverthe- 
less the results were by no means universally satisfactory, nor do they stand 
comparison with what remains of the fortifications at Avignon and York, or 
at Obidos or Guimares in Portugal. By no means everyone was convinced of 
die long-term importance of good defensive fortifications. Individualism and 
dogmatism combined to obstruct participation in the requisite collective 
financial effort (Poitiers). Bishops and canons were accused of culpable negli- 
gence; the incensed townspeople of Reims invaded die archbishop’s palace, 
claiming that he had failed to discharge his responsibilities as their protector! 
Some badly managed and hastily executed works were notoriously inadequate. 
Lack of funds resulted in sections of curtain wall remaining unfinished, 
replaced once the opening had been made widi a simple fence (Troyes) or by 
die back of houses (the so-called murenches at Annecy). 

Improvements in fortification were accompanied by re-enforced garrisons, 
militias and other defensive forces. When Florence was threatened by Henry 
VII of Luxemburg in 1312, the city was in a position to mobilise 1 2,000 citi- 
zens, both contadini and mercenaries, foot-soldiers and cavalrymen. From 1317 
die townspeople of many French towns entreated Philip V to appoint vigor- 
ous captains to defend them. As a result, the office of town captain was wide- 
spread and it became one of the hubs of local administration, the private 
preserve of impoverished nobles who were tempted by the wages and material 
advantages which it offered. Mobilising the militia was one of the duties of the 
captain-governor. Theoretically, it was die duty of every ‘head of household’ 
between sixteen and sixty to present himself, armed, at every muster. These 
individuals were then dispersed along the walls in units of twelve or of fifty 
men, known as dfaines, or cinquantaines. The town guard had three main func- 
tions: to keep watch at the gates of the town (a prestigious task, reserved for 
leading citizens), sentry duty on the towers and the night-watch (or arriere-guet) 

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in the streets of the towns. We should not harbour any illusions about die 
military calibre of the citizens: they were badly trained and equipped, with 
little motivation. The sorties made by the citizens of Paris in die years 1356-8 
and their clashes with mercenaries during die same period were far from 

There was a gradual general improvement in the level of equipment in all 
garrisons. The information supplied by die earliest accounts and inventories is 
very disparate. The word ‘artillery’, taken in the very broadest sense, refers to 
bladed weapons, catapults and odier siege engines. The first canons (called 
bastons or engins) gradually made their appearance on the ramparts: heavy bom- 
bards at first (at Lille or Tournai from the early 1340s), gradually comple- 
mented by other, more suitable calibres - serpentines, tapered veuglaires and 
mortars widi a vertical trajectory. They required specialists to handle them, 
under die command of a ‘master of canons’ — gunners rather than merely 
blacksmiths. Some towns became famous for the manufacture of arms: Liege 
had gunsmiths, besides manufacturers and finishers of swords; from the four- 
teendi century onwards there was a sizeable iron and bronze fire-arms indus- 
try at Dinant and Namur, while huge orders for armour and equipment were 
vital for die economies of Milan, Brescia and other Lombard cities. 

Whenever towns had a respite from warfare - or if they were simply lucky 
enough to escape it - they continued to expand and increase their massive 
resources. The landscape underwent a process of continual expansion both 
inside die walls and beyond them, sometimes changed out of all recognition. 
After the papal move to Avignon, complete with cardinals and all the depart- 
ments of die papal curia (1309-78) and accompanied by a great wave of immi- 
grants, the town of Avignon was completely remodelled. Continued growth 
within the town saw the building of a fortified papal palace, individual man- 
sions and other buildings to house a population that quickly doubled to more 
than 30,000. The Italian towns continued to expand and an increasing number 
of private and public palaces were built: the mid-century Bargello (or Palazzo 
del Podesta) at Florence, the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena and the Palazzo Ducale 
at Venice. These were public palaces on the grand scale, with splendid facades 
decorated with painting or sculpture, such as the Platea Communis at Parma, 
or the Sienese Campo. Then there were the fountains, often copying the mas- 
terpieces of Niccolo Pisano of Perugia, and the bridges lined with shops, such 
as the Ponte Vecchio at Florence or die Ponte Nuovo at Pisa. The same vital- 
ity was reflected in the new belfries of northern European towns with their 
clocks and bells (Bethune, Bruges, Douai, Ghent, Termonde), as well as in die 
town halls ( Rathduser ; Biirgerbauser) of German towns (Aachen, Cologne). The 
commercial facilities which promoted trading activities also developed: they 
ranged from simple arrangements for bakers and fishmongers, from 

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Urban life 

n ! 

merchants’ booths and covered galleries (such as those documented at Geneva 
or Chambery), to purpose-built market halls the size of cadiedrals (Florence), 
die first bourses, or money markets (Bruges, Barcelona) or die monopolistic 
arsenals of Venice and Barcelona. Even in a country ravaged by war, the pres- 
ence of a royal or princely court stimulated a revival. The arrival of John, duke 
of Berry, at Poitiers at die end of the century brought relief to a settlement 
laid waste by constant warfare, as well as the deliberate fire of 1 346. It provided 
die stimulus for a fresh division of the land into individual plots, construction 
of a great clock tower (the Gros Horloge), restoration of the comital palace, 
cathedral and town walls. Despite the disruption of die events of 1346-60, 
Paris and the Ile-de-France experienced renewed urban growth in die reigns of 
Charles V and Charles VI, with the extension of the Louvre and new town 
houses for the higher nobility (which stimulated complex land and property 
transactions); college buildings for students also transformed entire 
neighbourhoods, such as the university quarter in Paris. There were similar 
revivals at Mantes, Meaux and Tours, as well as at Rouen, with building works 
for both the cathedral and the church of St Ouen. 

For ecclesiastical building continued in die fourteenth century - witness, for 
instance, the cathedrals at Florence (‘the most noble church in Tuscany’), 
Orvieto and Siena. 10 English builders produced masterpieces of the 
Decorated and Perpendicular architectural styles, such as the choir and clois- 
ter at Gloucester (after 1340), Exeter Cathedral and die naves of Canterbury 
and Winchester. This period also saw the construction of the unique church 
of St Mary-of-the-sea at Barcelona and the cathedrals of Malines and Huy. 

Pressure on existing urban layouts is reflected in die further subdivision 
of plots (along the Strand in London, for example), alterations in the plan of 
existing neighbourhoods (as in the Rive quarter at Geneva) and the building 
of more new suburbs. (According to J. Heers, seventy examples of settlements 
outside town walls are documented for the period 1320-48. n ) The fourteenth 
century saw the development of a concept of urban political theory, backed 
by coercive legislation. From 1309 the city councillors ( aediles ) of Siena required 
formal permission for building beside a road; elsewhere municipal authorities 
forbade extensions, projecting towers, galleries or balconies which broke the 
unity of the existing street facade, as well as impeding the circulation of traffic 
and cutting off the light. There was also demonstrable progress in sanitary 
arrangements: at Pavia and Vannes, for example, drains were laid to complete 
the Roman system that was still in use; elsewhere, priority was given to paving 
the more important streets; the distribution of drinking water was improved 
by the construction of wells, aqueducts, underground conduits and fountains. 

10 Bargellini (1977), pp. 60— i. 11 Heers (1961). 

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I l6 

Even underground drains, however, could not hide the shortcomings of die 
system, or die appalling pollution in areas inhabited by butchers, dyers and 

It is difficult to say whether these public works played any part in increasing 
the responsibility of the individual citizen at a local level, for such municipal 
progress was by no means universal. A town might lose its right to self-gov- 
ernment if it had no charter, or simply in the natural course of political evolu- 
tion. Even so, it is important to realise that, in die so-called emancipated towns, 
the common people did not always want to preserve the existing communal or 
consular privileges which had brought them nothing, preferring to replace 
corrupt oligarchical government by a royal officer, who could offer them 
effective protection. The issue was expressed in these terms at Sens, 
Compiegne and Senlis at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Tournai, vir- 
tually on the border with the county of Flanders, had a highly advantageous 
communal charter that gave it a substantial degree of autonomy; these liber- 
ties were suspended by Charles V in the fourteenth century, and a royal bailli 
appointed. Saint-Quentin was similarly unfortunate: the charter was 
suspended in 1 3 1 1 , for an attempt to ‘deceive’ die king about the nature of its 
privileges! There were heavy penalties for die crime of lese-majeste. The king’s 
fury ( ira regis ) struck Meaux, accused of collusion with the supporters of 
Etienne Marcel and the Jacques; there were executions, followed by the aboli- 
tion of municipal privileges; henceforth the town was governed by die prevot 
of Paris. Rebellions incited by extreme poverty and excessive taxation met 
equally harsh punishments in Rouen and Paris in 1382—3. 

Towns that had not yet received the right to self-government remained 
subject to seigneurial audiority (in Brittany). Others (above all in Lombardy) 
that were embroiled in endless conflicts chose to renounce their unequal and 
sclerotic pseudo-democracies and put diemselves under the tutelage of a 
signore — a tyrant kept in power by the proletariat and mercenaries, who estab- 
lished a dynasty through the transfer of his dictatorial powers to his children. 
Matteo Visconti (who died in 1322), captain of the people for life, imposed his 
law and descendants upon Milan, capital of a principality that was elevated to 
the status of dukedom in 1395. The Visconti were emulated at Ferrara by the 
marquises of Este, at Genoa by Simone Boccanegra (‘lord and doge for life’), 
as well as at Bologna and Verona. Venice believed this fate had been averted by 
the execution on 1 5 April 1355 of the ambitious doge, Marino Falier, a product 
of tire new men or homines novi, but the city fell instead into the vice-like grip 
of die aristocratic ruling Council of Ten. 

Setting aside these reservations, it is undoubtedly true that isolation in times 
of war, the difficulties experienced by governments attempting to control any 

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Urban life 

n 7 

crisis, the politics of ‘continual haggling’ between the ruling power and the 
various collective interests generally favoured die urban privileges enjoyed by 
die bonnes vilks } 2 This expression was increasingly used to denote supposedly 
rich and prosperous urban setdements, enclosed with town walls (thirteen in 
Forez, twelve in the Lyonnais, eleven in the Bourbonnais), endowed with a 
minimum of institutions, but enjoying special relations with the king and his 
court. These took the form of letters exchanged with ‘cunning cordiality’ 
(Tours), despatch of delegations to the royal court and to representative 
assemblies of the nation and displays of loyalty each time the king made a 
formal entry into the town. Improved relations with the French crown were 
most evident in the least-developed areas. Chronicle evidence indicates diat 
citizens were most frequently called upon to negotiate directly with princes and 
their captains, and with the leaders of armies, to discuss matters and to give 
‘fealty and homage’. 

Generally, the apprenticeship of municipal government began with the 
collection of local taxes ( deniers communs). This had previously been the duty of 
tire princely and seigneurial authorities, but they accepted a transfer of 
responsibility and authorised the citizens to levy die taxes necessary for public 
works themselves. Rebuilding the town walls, purchase of new arms, payment 
of the garrison and militia, the costs of representation and general improve- 
ments all justified the establishment of a budget. Thus we can estimate that 
about 80,000 livres (in money of account) would be required to build an average 
town wall, two kilometres long, or to construct four gates and some thirty 
towers. Rebuilding the walls at Cahors required 67,000 livres in 1342, repairs at 
Reims came to nearly 150,000 livres, i.e. the cost of 2,000 houses. In the late 
Middle Ages many towns spent most of their resources — as much as 70 or 80 
per cent in some cases — on their ramparts! Financial problems soon loomed 
large. The usual sources of income of small places — city tolls, rents from 
fisheries in the town moat and from meadows, income from the operation of 
quarries or of tile works (Annecy), the sale of salvage, judicial fines - could be 
no more than a stopgap. It was not long before urban taxation, both direct and 
indirect, became standard throughout Europe. Municipal administrations 
everywhere - under the periodically renewed authority of their sovereign - had 
recourse to exceptional levies. Their level was calculated in relation either to 
tire sum required (Perigueux, Saint-Flour), or (in Italy) on the basis of the 
allibramentum, which was assessed on the estimo , or inventory of goods. 
Elsewhere these taxes might take the form of more-or-less enforced loans 
(Dijon in 1358-69, Siena, Pisa), subsidies from kings, bishops or popes 
(Perigueux, Rouen, Avignon). Taxes appeared everywhere on finished and 

12 Chevalier ( 1982 ). 

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marketed goods, as well as on foodstuffs. The only differences were the names 
by which they were called: leydes or leuda, barrages on cloisons. Taxes on the sale of 
drinks, especially wine, guaranteed the best level of return: they were called 
souquet in Aquitaine, courte pinte in Burgundy, billot or apetissement in Brittany. 
Since the town walls protected the entire community - including the peasants 
in the surrounding countryside - the taxation that paid for them was theoret- 
ically levied on the entire community, but in reality a whole range of exemp- 
tions operated for the benefit of clergy, nobles and officials. 

The administration of taxation and expenditure meant that registers or rolls 
of accounts became commonplace from the second half of the fourteenth 
century. The existence of series of accounts — in some instances complete over 
long periods (Chambery, Saint-Flour), in others only fragmentary (Dijon, 
Poitiers) - make it possible to follow the development of the towns’ annual 
revenues, in money payments or kind, and to determine die principal heads of 
expenditure: public works, the upkeep of die town walls ( I’hobra dels murs. , as it 
was called at Rodez), payments for expropriations, weapons, official functions 
and embassies, salaries of town employees, lawsuits and the repayment of 
loans. Keeping diese accounts, recording minutes, drawing up regulations and 
estimates - all these functions presupposed a qualified personnel of scribes 
and notaries (town clerks in England), subject to rigorous control and some- 
times including officers of the king of France, the bailli of Rouen and members 
of the chambre des comptes (French royal accounting office) elsewhere. 

In this way town administrations gradually took shape. The spectacular - but 
episodic - general assemblies of citizens to discuss ‘the common good’, the 
arengo of the Italian communes, were soon replaced by oligarchic councils of 
elus or prud’hommes , and by their officials, whose role was temporary at first, but 
then became permanent. Procurators representing each community appeared, 
togedier widi variously named communal representatives - syndics, consuls 
and echevins. The practice also spread of appointing accounting officers and 
other officials responsible for public works, artillery, fountains and bridges 
(Avignon, Dijon). 

The difficulties of the century accentuated die differences between rich and 
poor, between an affluent towndwelling minority, influential business associ- 
ates or rivals, and a world of toil where there was a great gulf between master 
and workers and - at the very bottom of the social scale - the underworld of 
those who had no place at all, a strange mixture of rejects from a society that 
they themselves had scarcely glimpsed. 

Our sources indicate that the range of eminent citizens, those referred to in 
documentary sources as riches hommes , heritables or hereditaires (in Flanders and 
Germany), viri de plate or placiers (Narbonne) expanded. They came to include 

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Urban life 

TI 9 

representatives of the ordinary people (die popolo grasso) in addition to the 
traditional members - merchants of historic towns, often hit by crisis; their 
equivalents on the new trade routes to the nordi and east between Europe and 
the Atlantic, epitomised by the German Hanseatic League; the heads of the 
great Italian banking companies, still family based. There were also more 
lawyers, notaries, proctors and advocates, all university educated or trained in 
the writing-offices of their future colleagues (Lyon); there are records of 
increasing numbers of high-ranking magistrates, state officials, members of 
representative assemblies, exchequer or accounting departments, followed by 
fitters-out of ships, galleys and smaller vessels, then tax farmers, courtiers and 
(in Florence) masters of the major guilds. It is particularly difficult to under- 
stand - let alone classify - this motley world of wages and salaries, commis- 
sions and honoraria, pensions or even ‘pots of wine’. Some accounts, wills and, 
above all, tax registers ( estimes , vaillants and compoix) provide tire basis for a quan- 
titative assessment of their wealth and social position. Each town had the elite 
it deserved, and diere is no comparison between small shopkeepers in the 
Forez (such as the Lardier of Montbrison, who could scarcely raise the pitiful 
figure of 200 to 300 livres required to diversify their investments) and the Le 
Visite, a family of rich lawyers at Lyon; the Rouen merchant family of Le Lieur, 
or the London wine and wool merchants who enjoyed such influence in the 
reign of Edward III; let alone the Venetian shipowners along die Grand Canal 
and the Rialto, or the Bardi of Florence who possessed the huge capital sum 
of 2 million dorins at the zenith of their success. 

Nevertheless, these very different individuals have points in common which 
had a profound effect on urban life and on society as a whole. Their success 
was often remarkably transitory. Who in Florence in 1300 could possibly have 
foretold the crash, forty years later, of those same Bardi, who (with the 
Perruzzi and the Acciaiuoli) became embroiled in risky banking operations, 
widi royal creditors failing to make repayments; nor could anyone have fore- 
seen their replacement by a second generation of financiers — the families of 
Alberti, Ricci, Strozzi and Medici. Aware of the danger and prompted by dieir 
instinct for self-preservation, the rich tended to diversify their activities and 
seek out fall-back positions which would offer diem relative security. Whatever 
the level or age of their wealdi, all diese parvenus displayed the same concern 
widi property investment; they also exploited the outward signs of honour and 
the opening of the ranks of the nobility. No one could become a member of 
the Council of One Hundred at La Rochelle unless he lived and owned prop- 
erty within the town walls. As the writer Nicholas de Villers of Verdun said, 
‘[Rich] men acquire houses, vineyards, meadows and fields.’ 1 ’ The formula 

13 Schneider (1956), p. 526. 

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I 20 


underlined the minority capacity for acquiring land, property, rights and 
rents. The family house was the investment par excellence , renovated and 
extended by successive acquisitions, variously called the ostel, hostel (Arles), 
tenement (Rouen), manoir, tone (Italy) and ideally located in the main street 
( grande rue, magna carriera ), near the cathedral or market halls and the hub of 
the enclosed city. Nevertheless, we should not ignore the citizens’ interest in 
letting property, their speculative activity in the poorest quarters, garrets let 
out to students, inns (Toulouse), gardens and other areas where building was 
not permitted ( non aedi candi) (Geneva, Ghent). Very few of the substantial 
town houses whose lights in the fourteenth century dazzled the town at night 
with their magnificence have survived the passage of centuries. The Italian 
merchant cities of Florence, Venice and Siena were most splendid in this 
respect. In the absence of surviving examples, there is evidence from 
classifications according to price of houses valued at 1,000 and 2,000 livres 
and over (Reims, Saint-Flour), references to building materials, to stone 
‘shining like Parian marble’ at Caen, evidence of sculpted panels, wall-paint- 
ings and metalwork, in short all the outward signs of wealth: vaulted cellars 
(Ghent, Geneva), loggias and galleries, monumental staircases, wells, lavato- 
ries, fine furniture, windows, works of art. The purchase of plots of land in 
the suburbs and elsewhere, of farms and smallholdings with sharecropping 
agreements - more rarely a lordship - constituted another step towards the 
ultimate and crowning success, the grant of nobility which signified a total 
change of status. Texts and miniatures also reveal that well-to-do citizens 
were interested in their wardrobe, as well as in jewels and precious objects, 
valuable plate, the pleasures of the table and in games of chance to such an 
extent that sumptuary laws and moralists at times exhorted them to greater 
moderation, urging them to curb the desires of both themselves and their 
wives! Their interest in manuscripts is an indication that eminent citizens 
were far from uneducated at this period. Townspeople played an important 
role in the development of secular culture, both through the spread of ‘com- 
munal’ schools which are to be found even in the smallest towns of Savoy, 
Poland and the Armorican peninsula, and by sending their own children to 
university. The citizen’s pride, his concern with being seen to do well and a 
highly developed fear of an after-life, rather than profound personal devo- 
tion, inspired him to sacrifices that no doubt came hard to members of a 
class that was not by nature generous, and who were criticised for their greed. 
In fact, their patronage was translated into a sprinkling of gifts to churches, 
convents and hospitals, by payments to colleges of students, religious guilds, 
chambers of rhetoric (the pujs of Flanders, also to be found at Rouen), the 
commissioning of works of art and, finally, the chapels which would contain 
their tombs. 

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Urban life 

I 2 I 

Facing this elite was the working world of yards and workshops, which 
made its mark on the fourteenth century with its numbers and presence, as 
well as by its demands. In large towns, masters of corporate associations vari- 
ously termed ‘guilds’, ‘trades’ and ‘arts’ ( confreries . , metiers, arti), with 
responsibility for their members and apprentices, artisans and labour, were a 
social force to be reckoned with. Parisian tax registers list at least 5 ,000 arti- 
sans in about 1300. There were thousands of female spinners, weavers, 
carders, finishers of cloth, fullers and dyers at Bruges, Ghent, Florence, 
Reims, Rouen and Toulouse and so on, at the mercy of their employers, the 
merchant-drapers who distributed raw materials and exported the finished 
goods. Guild members and their servants had miserable wages and deplor- 
able working conditions; in Flanders they had to face the threat of unemploy- 
ment, as a result of Edward Ill’s embargo on exports of English wool at the 
beginning of the Hundred Years War; and they had to face the scorn of the 
more affluent members of society, who called them names such as ‘blue nails’ 
( ongles bleus) at Ghent, Ciompi at Florence, or even simply ‘scum’ ( merdaille ). 
Wages fluctuated for part of the century, increasing after epidemics until they 
were frozen by ordinances of Kings Edward III and John II (1349, 1351, 
1354). They just covered food and the rent of a garret - a room of twenty 
square metres in the university quarter at Paris, for instance. There was never 
sufficient to cover price increases or pay off debts. The 1 5 deniers daily wage 
of a Poitevin worker, for example, bought 3 kg 200 of bread in 1 3 62, but only 
1 kg 600 in 1372, when there was a famine! Contracted markets, a reduction 
in the number of customers as a result of successive epidemics, increased 
competition from rural industries producing goods at a lower price, or simply 
a change of fashion - any of these factors could prove disastrous for tradi- 
tional industries. Leather workers were among the first to suffer (Pisa); 
because of their dependence upon urban prosperity, drapers and weavers 
were similarly affected. The effects of economic stagnation soon made them- 
selves felt in the old textile centres of northern Europe, at Arras, Douai, 
Saint-Omer, Ypres and Ghent. These difficulties explain protectionist mea- 
sures, both internal and external: strangers were forbidden to sell finished 
goods in local markets; there was a ban on peasant weaving within a certain 
radius of the town (five kilometres at Ghent in 1314). Access to the higher 
echelons of the trade became virtually restricted to the wealthy and privi- 
leged sons of existing masters. In the course of the fourteenth century cor- 
porate statues, known in France as la chose du roi, became standard, as did 
practices such as the long and costly preparation of a ‘masterpiece’, the dis- 
tribution of gifts and banquets for future guild members. Tiffs conservatism 
effectively blocked the social advancement of anyone from the lower classes, 
aggravating existing inequalities. Together with the pressure of taxes and 

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price increases, they contributed to a state of discontent, which proved a 
favourable breeding ground for illicit ‘alliances’ and the earliest social move- 
ments, such as the Flemish tahehan or the Italian ristopio, as well as the out- 
breaks of urban violence already mentioned. Many towns were also the scene 
of conflict between ‘patricians’ and guild masters for control of the magis- 
trature. A town like Augsburg (which solved its problems with a division of 
power and the establishment of a two-chamber system in 1368) was fortu- 
nate. Force won the day in most instances (Nuremberg in 1348, Cologne in 
1396) and eventually authoritarian regimes were established. Italian despots 
were quick to exploit situations of this kind. 

Nevertheless, a pessimistic view of economic and social conditions in 
the towns at the end of the fourteenth century runs the risk of obscuring 
other developments that were taking place. Imperceptibly, work in the 
towns underwent a gradual metamorphosis; techniques improved with the 
more widespread use of the wheel, more efficient looms and industrial 
mills, which sometimes clustered on river banks in such numbers that they 
endangered traffic on the water (Annecy). There was a higher level of pro- 
fessional expertise, and occupations became more specialised; new 
branches of existing trades were developed in response to both the 
demands of less easily satisfied clients and to the increasing complexity of 
the job in hand. Cannoneers, who had been no more than blacksmiths in a 
different area of work, became entirely distinct specialist craftsmen. 
Although crisis in the textile industry had an adverse effect in many cities, 
high quality production continued, with an unabated demand for 
Florentine brocade and silk from Lucca. This was also a period in which 
new centres developed in small towns that were able to adapt to the 
demands of a popular clientele, producing lightweight materials that were 
competitively priced. This was the case in Malines, Hondschoote, 
Herenthals in Brabant, Bergen-op-Zoom and many small cloth towns in 
England and Brittany. There was progress in other artisan activities, such as 
armoury, the manufacture of paper and parchment, shipbuilding (the naval 
dockyard of the French kings at Rouen). 

Although the vitality of a city finds expression in its work, it is also 
reflected in its entertainments. There are better records from the four- 
teenth century than from previous periods of the secular festivities which 
enabled the townsfolk to forget their daily cares and cast off habitual con- 
straints, as well as of the numerous religious festivals, coronation and 
Corpus Christ! processions (the latter became common from the 
pontificate of Clement V, venerating the real presence of Christ in the 
Eucharist), receptions of princes and embassies and the ‘joyful entries of 
the king’ ( joyeuses entrees du rot) in France, soon imitated by other princes, 

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Urban life 123 

when the town received its ruler with a sequence of scenes following a care- 
fully determined route. 

The contradictions of urban history at this period make it difficult to draw any 
general conclusions. I shall end with a quotation from a recent work by R. 
Fossier: ‘difficulties and progress were so finely balanced that contemporaries 
were uncertain of the direction History was taking’. 14 

14 Fossier (1983), p. 9;. 

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Christiane Klapisch-Zuber 

around 1300, it seemed that the population, to some degree everywhere in 
Europe, had attained its maximum and reached a ceiling. There were still few 
signs allowing one to foretell the slowing-down of the expansion begun almost 
three centuries before; these signs were to multiply in the first half of the four- 
teenth century. It was then, in the very middle of the century, that the terrible 
knell of the Black Death sounded. Thus a period opened characterised by the 
deadly and repeated attacks of what contemporaries interpreted as a sign of 
divine anger provoked by human depravity. The century closed, in fact, with 
another major epidemic of the terrible illness and the fifteenth, begun in an 
atmosphere of mourning, was to bear its ineradicable stigmata. The plague 
henceforth accompanied medieval man as ineluctably as, to use the words of 
Alain Chartier, ‘die abominable sum of infinitely wicked evils’: hunger, war, 

No historian doubts that the brutal irruption of a scourge which was to 
become a pandemic and affect the European population for centuries stimu- 
lated profound upheavals in modes of production, living and feeling. An 
evaluation of the precise effects of the epidemic, of its place in the period’s 
procession of evils, is more difficult. Did the plague, falling upon Europe, 
operate autonomously to subvert or renew the structures of feudal society? 
Was the terrifying skeleton which led an entire society in the Dance of Death 
the model on which historians should base their analyses? Did an increased 
death rate play a providential and decisive role in the human disturbances? 

Research undertaken before 1965 attempted to evaluate the blows delivered 
by the plague; economic historians plotted the graph - or, rather, the graphs, 
as numerous and diverse as the towns or country villages studied - of the 
movement of the population at the end of the Middle Ages. For a whole 
generation who rubbed shoulders with Marxism to a greater or lesser extent, 
comparison of population graphs with those of prices and wages constituted 
a promising horizon. Establishing knowledge of the medieval period on solid, 


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Plague and family life 


quantified foundations, by annexing the methods of ‘serial history’ which had 
renewed understanding of the modern period, constituted the most noble of 
objectives, despite the difficulties scattered in the medievalist’s path. 

Did historians question more recently the whole numerical range of disasters 
and modes of evaluation? We should rather speak of a shift of emphasis in 
research rather than die abandoning of approaches previously followed. One of 
die most fruitful ways in which the historical writing of recent decades has 
tackled these questions has been to examine the overall demographic reactions 
and die behaviour of individuals at die point where they meet - the family. 
Research undertaken after 1970 has been inspired by die success of works of 
historical demography on die modern period and reflects die concern to 
characterise die demographic patterns of die Middle Ages. The study of the life- 
cycle of the individual and of the evolution of the demographic variables in a 
population has taken priority over population estimates of a particular town or 
region. For dieir part, the sociology and die anthropology of the family have 
given rise to a shift in interest. Their critical contribution has made clearer to his- 
torians die reasons for their dissatisfaction widi dieir own tools: for example, 
average family size or die estimated number of individuals in a household 
(‘hearth’) , which was die eternal stumbling-block of so many medieval estimates, 
recovered its meaning if it was now considered as die product of complex rela- 
tionships, a sort of crossroads of demographic and economic constraints, jurid- 
ical norms and family strategies. Not only die composition of die ‘household’ 
and die roles attributed to each of its members, but die articulation with the 
wider world of kinship, neighbourhood and die community could become 
central objects of historical analysis. Family structures, relations between 
spouses, relatives and generations, the functioning of die domestic cell as a unit 
of production and reproduction dius became a primary preoccupation. 

In diis historiographical context, the problem of changes possibly 
prompted by the outbreak of the plague and rise in the death rate required a 
new approach. It was henceforth a question of reflecting less on an environ- 
ment and more on the mechanisms and the individual or collective reactions 
to die challenges of illness, death, numerical reduction, economic annihilation 
or social decline. It was, moreover, a question of defining die medieval demo- 
graphic system. Was it possible to talk of continuity between the European 
demographic system of the Middle Ages and diat of die modern periods? 
Between the high and die late Middle Ages? Did a complete rupture affect the 
variables of the demographic system and of family organisation sufficiently 
deeply for one to talk of different systems? If there was a break, what role did 
the outbreaks of plague play? Medievalists have thus been called upon to assess 
die place of the deadi rate and evaluate the other demographic statistics to 
compare them widi those of the modern period. 

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Alas, their sources did not have the unity, coherence and continuity of the 
parish registers and fiscal or religious censuses of the ancien regime. How, then, 
were the methods of analysis devised in the use of early modern registers of 
births and deaths to be applied, when the medieval evidence which could be 
used remained desperately fragmentary and incoherent, almost always con- 
cerned a social elite and was therefore little representative of the population as 
a whole? The problem of sources was all tire more acute as the historian’s 
appetite grew. 

Historians of the Middle Ages are used to turning everything to good 
account; but, in order to make their data reveal something about the death rate, 
the marriage rate and fertility of these periods, they undertake high-risk opera- 
tions. Criticisms of such efforts are easily made and often justified. Wills, it is 
said, can at most be used to calculate a replacement rate, not a death rate, still 
less to determine fertility. Even censuses, for a long while the only resource of 
medieval historical demography, are rarely exhaustive and for die most part 
covered a limited population in such an incomplete way that all generalisation 
is questionable. Moreover, only exceptionally do we have data at this period 
about the local population in aggregate and about demographic variables - the 
number of deaths, for example, over a given period and in a place whose 
population at the same date is known. Finally, what about seigneurial taxes on 
marriage, illegitimate children, deaths and succession, which must take account 
of a degree of evasion which is difficult to assess? Will they ever present any- 
thing other than questionable values, obtained at the price of repeated 
manipulation of evidence ? 1 

Does this mean we should stop trying to give the epidemics of times past 
their rightful place and penetrate the secrets of the medieval demographic 
system? Certainly not. The work of the last two or three decades has at least 
enabled us to adjust the working hypotheses. It is this above all which this 
chapter will attempt to take into account: lines of enquiry much more than 
the mass of multiple, partial and undoubtedly provisional results which 
research on population and the family has multiplied in the last twenty or 
thirty years. 


A prime necessity retains its urgency; as I have said, to meet this comes down 
to establishing oneself within an old and fertile historiographical tradition. The 

1 For criticisms of the use made of data drawn from English manorial court rolls, see Hatcher (1986), 
esp. pp. 20—2. For hearth registers and books of land taxes enabling the calculation of the number 
of houses and the density of the urban population, see Heers (1968). For surveys of hearths in 
Burgundy, see Leguai and Dubois in La demography medievale (1972); Carpentier and Glenisson (1962). 

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Plague and family life 


description of the evolution of die population development and its stages, in 
die various countries of Europe, and the assessment of the extent of its 
decline, from before the Black Death then in relation to the recurrent out- 
breaks of the epidemic, has continued to sustain the interest of recent works. 2 
Traditionally, the picture which resulted from this was broadly based on nar- 
rative sources. These sources were often deceptive and sometimes actually mis- 
leading: 3 dius, die silence of more than one contemporary chronicler in the 
face of die Black Death of 1347-9 has been observed, as if terror and 
stupefaction had stopped his speech. 4 Worse, when his successors took heart 
and advanced figures for the losses caused by recurrent outbreaks of the 
scourge, it is generally impossible to credit them, other dian as a gauge of dieir 
fear. However, population counts - from cadastres and hearth counts, regis- 
ters of heardi taxes and assessments of wealdi, of salt consumption, of those 
individuals liable to tax, books of citizenship and so on - have been exhumed 
or rediscovered, published or utilised in considerable numbers since i960. 5 
While not yet as diverse and abundant as those of the following century, the 
archives of administrations — royal, manorial or communal — became richer in 
die fourteenth century. Drawn up for various purposes, all diese sources can 
reveal specific correspondences in the movement of the population and 
permit calculation of common reasons for it. They shed light not only on the 
properly numerical effects of the epidemics but also on the vigour of the 
authorities’ reactions and the forms they took. 

Deceleration of demographic growth 

This is documented throughout Europe, to some extent, in the first half of the 
fourteenth century; likewise the stabilisation of the population at what was 
admittedly still a very high level. Uniformity was undoubtedly not the rule; here 
and there, areas or communities maintained their population level, when 
others were already falling. 

Thus, in the first half of the fourteenth century, contrasting situations seem 
to have characterised England, whose total population, reaching between 4 
million and 6 million (even 7 million) inhabitants after 1300, would have trebled 
or quadrupled in two-and-a-half centuries. 6 Difficult though an assessment of 
the evolution of the population between 1300 and 1348 may appear, the stagna- 
tion or demographic decline of villages and towns at the local level are scarcely 
more accessible. Following close on the heels of the debate opened by the 

2 The classic picture remains that of Mols (1954—6). 3 Bulst (1987). 

4 On this silence, see Dubois (1988a), esp. p. 318. 

5 For a detailed list of those works which appeared before 1979, see Fossier (1979). 

6 Russell (1966); Postan (1972); and, for the higher figure, Hallam (1981); Titow (1961). 

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Neo-Malthusian theses of M. Postan from die 1950s, 7 English and Canadian 
historians have increased their research on demography and access to the land 
and the means of production in medieval manors and villages. Without bring- 
ing direct proof of continued rise or of an early decline, they have at least pro- 
duced many examples of rural discrepancies. 8 On the manor of Halesowen in 
Worcestershire, for example, the population seems to have declined by 1 5 per 
cent in the famine years of 1316-17, while the population of that of Coltishall 
in Norfolk - die country’s most densely populated region - seemed to have 
held up until the Black Death. 9 According to its recent historian, Bury St 
Edmunds, in western Suffolk, came blithely through the dark years of the four- 
teenth and fifteenth centuries, although the town may have lost 40 per cent of 
its population between 1347 and 1377; 10 but Coventry, at the very heart of the 
country, reached die sixteenth century in a state of total desolation. 11 
Throughout northern Europe, recession often had a violent effect upon towns, 
while mysteriously sparing some of them. 12 

Discontinuity is no less striking between one region of France and another. 
When the population was at its highest point - marked by the great hearth 
census {grand etat des feux) of i328 13 ~ the country could have reckoned with 
some 1 5 million inhabitants within its borders at that period, but die move- 
ment to found new towns ( villeneuves ) and bastides had died out and a good 
number of recent creations had already disappeared. 14 Stagnation, and even 
some decline, also characterised the towns during the second, and above all 
after the third, decade of the fourteenth century, the numerical high point 
occurring for most of diem c. 1320— 3o. L "’ This can be observed in Normandy, 
in Reims after 1320, at Perigueux after 1330, in upper Provence and at 
Marseille. 16 But this trend was not uniform: the Biterrois, for example, which 
was no great distance from Provence, and even lower Provence, show no signs 
of a falling-off before the plague. 17 

Finally, to take only the example of Italy from the Mediterranean countries, 18 
the population there seems to have reached its peak c. 1 290, with perhaps 1 1 
million inhabitants. 19 From Piedmont to die towns of Emilia and Romagna, to 
Tuscany and even die southern regions and the islands of die Mediterranean, 

7 Postan (1950a) and (1950b). 8 Raftis (1957); DeWindt (1972); Britton (1977); Smith (1984). 

9 Razi (1980); Campbell (1984). 10 Gottfried (1982), esp. p. 52. 

11 Phythian-Adams (1978) and (1979); Dobson (1977). 

12 For the Low Countries, see Prevenier (1983). For Germany, Dollinger (1972). 

13 Published in Lot (1929). 14 Pesez and Le Roy Ladurie (1965); Fligounet (1965). 

15 Higounet-Nadal (1980), esp. pp. 194—6, and (1988), esp. p. 301; Dubois (1988a) and (1988b). 

16 Bois (1976); Higounet-Nadal (1978), ch. 2; Lorcin (1973); Baratier (1961), pp. 80—1; Desportes 

( T 979 ). 17 Gramain (1972); Bourin-Derruau (1987). 

18 Les Espagnes medievales (1983); Berthe (1984); Guillere (1984). 

19 Beloch (1937—61); Bellettini (1974); Del Panta et al. (1996). 

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1 29 

die drop in population did not wait for die Black Deadi. 20 For Tuscany, die 
studies of E. Fiumi and D. Herlihy in particular have demonstrated that, at die 
end of a period of sustained growdi, the population stabilised and remained at 
a very high level between 1290 and 1520; but in the second quarter of the four- 
teenth century, from before the Black Death, it declined very markedly. 21 

This fall in population did not occur in an orderly fashion by abandoning in 
a calculated way lands that had been quickly colonised but had proved 
unprofitable in die longer term, or by leaving sites that were too exposed and 
indefensible, and by transferring efforts to odier more productive locations. It 
was in die angry rumbling of people made furious by dearth and speculators 
in foodstuffs, the desolation of devastating crises of mortality, that the great 
retreat of the population started. Cruel famines ran through die first half of 
the fourteenth century, sometimes followed by murderous epidemics, heralds 
of the notorious Black Death. In Italy, shortages became frequent; that of 
1528-9 hit much the greater part of the peninsula, 22 and in 1359-40, then 
1346— 7, 23 the whole of Italy experienced the horrors of famine. 24 A terrible 
famine, preceded by bad weather, ravaged northern Europe after 1 3 1 5 25 — 
Germany and die Low Countries, England and half of France; 26 in Essex three 
of the rural communities studied by L. R. Poos lost as much as 1 5 per cent of 
their population during diese gloomy, dark years, and at Bruges and Ypres 
about 10 per cent of die population died of hunger in 13 16. 27 On the odier 
hand, diis ‘great pestilence of famine and mortality’ - to use die words of 
Giovanni Villani - affected Italy little, only lighdy touching Tuscany. 28 

The terms of the Florentine chronicler placed responsibility for ‘mortality’ 
from famine direcdy at die door of die ‘plague’. Well before 1347 die infernal 
pair returned, obsessively, to die prose of annalists of die period, an association 
more striking because we know widi hindsight that a far more formidable 
‘plague’ was to loom on die horizon of the mid-century. The two words dien are 
ambiguous: they associate deadi and disease widiout distinguishing die sub- 
stance of either. What link should be established between deaths and subsistence 
crises? Did periods of high prices and dearth bring epidemics in dieir wake, or 
did the latter, disrupting economic life, prepare die way for die former? 29 The 

20 For an overall view, see Mazzi (1982). On particular regions: Comba (1977); Pini (1969) and (1976); 
Herlihy (1973); Trasselli (1964); Day (1975). 

21 Fiumi (1962); Herlihy (1967); Ginatempo and Sandri (1990). See for Tuscan details in Herlihy and 
Klapisch-Zuber (1978), pp. 166—71, 177—9. The a * S an Gimignano was more perceptible in rural 
regions than in the town. 

22 Grundmann (1970). Tuscany suffered acute shortages in 1302—3, 1310— 11 and 1322—3. 

23 Cherubini (1970); Pinto (1972). 24 Mazzi (1982), p. 37. 25 Lucas (1930) remains fundamental. 

26 Kershaw (1973). 27 Poos (1991), p. 106, fig. 5.2a, p. 96; Van Werveke (1959). 

28 ‘Nel detto anno mcccxvi grande pestilenzia di fame e mortalita avenne nelle parti di Germania . . . ’: 
Villani, Nuova Cronica , (ix. 80), ed. Porta (1990) (x. 80), n, p. 285. 29 Neveux (1968). 

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first of these relationships is simpler to grasp, but it is not confirmed in all die 
mortality crises before 1348. Epidemics of all kinds, diseases resulting from 
deardi and malnutrition surged in the wake of food shortages. 30 Typhus, 
tuberculosis, malaria, smallpox, infiuenza and broncho-pulmonary complica- 
tions all found easy prey in die poor of die towns, all crammed into unwhole- 
some accommodation, and in the starving crowds driven away from die 
countryside by war, poor harvests, insecurity and famine. 31 Malnutrition, and die 
physical weakening which resulted from it, opened die way to bacterial and viral 
attacks, whatever agents they had; accelerated urbanisation, crowding into 
insalubrious parts of die city, encouraged contagious disease. Poverty deprived 
the poor, confronted with disease, of the responses available to die rich cut off 
in their residences, or tieeing to a locality spared by die plague, resorting to 
doctors and surgeons, and adopting an adequate diet. 

Although it is therefore difficult to identify each of the ‘plagues’ which dec- 
imated some towns and regions of Europe before 1 347, 32 it is clear, in any case, 
that the poor of the towns and country paid a particularly high price. The link 
which contemporaries established almost automatically between the epidemic 
and shortages blundy poses the problem of the equilibrium between a popula- 
tion greatly increased until the first decades of the fourteendi century and die 
resources at its disposal. In the eyes of numerous historians, die superfluous 
population of the early fourteendi century would have harboured the means 
of destruction, famines and epidemics, necessary to maintain its equilibrium 
with limited resources. If there were ‘corrective reactions’, in the Malthusian 
sense, they were, in this analytical framework, undoubtedly inadequate, since 
in die autumn of 1347 die plague returned to the European scene. 

The plague 

To evaluate the role and the adequacy of these supposed checks as having 
contained the population rise before the outbreak of die plague is difficult 
enough. Determining die place of this plague among the arsenal of Malthusian 
reactions is still more debateable. 

More than a century ago, Yersin recognised the agent responsible for die 

30 Carpentier(i962b);McNeill(i976);DelPanta(i98o). 31 Mazzi ( 1 978), pp. 44—65 ; Biraben ( 1 988;. 
32 What, for example, was the nature of the two cruellest plagues (1340 and 1347), which in Tuscany 
followed periods of high prices and scarcity, and of which the second, as a prelude to the pandemic 
of the following year, especially attacked women and children and the Florentine poor? Mazzi (1982), 
p. 3 1; Villani, Nuova Cronica , ed. Porta, in, pp. 225—8, 483—6. On the characteristics not pertaining to 
the plague of the Florentine epidemic of 1 340, which according to Villani carried off 1 5 ,000 persons, 
and which can be measured by the register of deaths of S. Maria Novella, see Carmichael (1986), pp. 
63—5. On the epidemics preceding the Black Death in France, Higounet-Nadal (1980), pp. 196—7. 
On the concept of pathocenosis, that is the interdependence of different illnesses, Bulst (1989). 

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Plague and family life 

1 3 1 

cataclysm in the bacillus Yersinia pestis. Four years later, in 1898, the carrier of 
die bacillus, the dea Xenopsylla cheopis, taking refuge on man when it could not 
find its preferred rat, was also identified in Bombay. The role of this flea, 
infecting man and propagating the bubonic plague, was long die object of 
debate, but today no longer needs to be demonstrated. 33 Light has been pro- 
gressively shed on the actual ecology of the plague, on the milieux and condi- 
tions favourable to its preservation and propagation, as well as on the 
variations in its symptomatology and the secondary character of pulmonary 
plague, contaminating directly - without the intermediate stage of a flea-bite 
- an individual exposed to the spit of a sick person. 

This is not the place to describe die course taken by this scourge across 
Europe from die time when it hit Messina in September 1347: reference need 
only be made to the great synthesis of J.-N. Biraben, based on the totality of 
local researches and earlier scholarly works. 34 A rapid glance at the demo- 
graphic effects of the great pandemic remains necessary, none the less. We 
should observe, however, that historians are still unable to specify its exact 
numerical impact everywhere in a satisfactory manner. Global estimates vary 
between one fifth and one half of the European population. Measurements 
remain uncertain, for it is rare to have available either detailed accounts of 
deaths which occurred during die actual period of the plague, or censuses 
shordy before and after the epidemic. One is reduced to extrapolating from 
very narrowly localised data, or calculating the size of the death rate by relying 
on indirect figures. 

A first observation is essential. The extent of the epidemic is documented 
by the number of localities affected annually throughout Europe. 35 Beyond 
such statements, based above all on narrative sources and inevitably incom- 
plete, it emerges from almost all the statistics from France based on the series 
of local or regional burials that die Black Death, between the end of 1347 and 
1350, or even 1351, stands out as the most murderous of the mortality crises 
until then listed and quantifiable. 36 In England, work on manorial courts has 

33 Bulst (1985), esp. p. 253; Biraben (1975), 1, pp. 7—21. However, another flea, common to several 
species of rats, transmitted the bacillus from one to the other, while a third ( Pulex irritant), peculiar 
to man, could very well have transmitted the plague: ibid., p. 13. 

34 For a chronology of the Black Death, see Biraben (1975), 1, pp. 74— Bi. For England, Ziegler (1969), 
pp. 120— 201. For Scandinavia, see Benedictow (1992a) and (1992b). 

35 Biraben (1975), 1, p. 124, graph 5. 

36 See the curves of graph 3, based on the obituary list of the diocese of Sens, the deaths of the bishops 
of France, wills of the Lyonnais and the register of burials at Givry in Burgundy (below, n. 79). 
Biraben (1975), 1, p. 427, makes the graph of the landholders in the area around Lille an exception. 
See also observations on the registering of burials at Givry in Burgundy, Saint-Ni2ier (a parish of 
Lyon), the wills at Saint-Germain- 1 ’ Auxerrois in Paris, and on vacancies of benefices, summarised 
ibid., 1, pp. 156—84. 

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I 3 2 


made it possible to increase estimates of its effects. The death rate among die 
clergy, as on many manors, averaged around 45 per cent, with higher localised 
points. 37 Halesowen, for example, contradicts low estimates with a death rate 
close to this level. 38 

It was perhaps in Italy that the heavy losses in the heart of the urban and 
rural populations are most dramatically attested. Bocaccio was largely respon- 
sible for the fact that the Black Death was called ‘the plague of Florence’. It is 
true that this town, affected from March 1348 until September, suffered very 
severely from the attack: the epidemic succeeded in carrying away up to half 
the population. 39 From the islands and southern Italy, the great ports were 
quickly attacked, 40 and the plague reached a large part of the interior while 
sparing some regions like die Milan area. 41 The relatively minor impact of the 
plague on some localities was to recur diroughout Europe in the diree years 
that followed. 

From 1349 onwards, while the plague reached Portugal from Spain, and fol- 
lowed its course in northern and eastern France, the Rhineland, the southern 
Low Countries, 42 Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, a large part of southern 
England, then between 1350 and 1352, reached Poland, Russia, northern 
Germany, the Baltic and Scandinavia, the authorities of regions already dev- 
astated assessed the damage and adjusted their administrative routine to the 
new situation created by the disaster. This was not actually because they 
sought to know the exact number of total losses, either because many people 
had not yet returned or because, on the other hand, the influx of new immi- 
grants in localities denuded of their population was already apparent, but 
because they had to record the taxpayers or tenants who had disappeared. To 
take the example of Halesowen, the court of the English manor was still 
enquiring into deaths and registering resumptions of holdings in the six 
months following the end of the epidemic. 43 Florence soon decided to bring 

37 Based on inquisitiones post mortem of the propertied classes, Russell (1948), pp. 214—17, placed the 
average around 25 per cent, while admitting a higher death rate among monastic communities. Still 
lower, Shrewsbury (1970), pp. 122—4, proposed an estimated population loss of 5 per cent, seeing 
the Black Death as a mixture of typhus and bubonic plague, an estimate and opinion which have 
been robustly disputed. 38 Razi (1980), pp. 99-107. 

39 Matteo Villani speaks of three deaths in five among the inhabitants: Villani, Cronica (1. 2), 9. The 
losses were possibly not always as heavy as the chroniclers maintained; for Bologna, where the 
number of men who could bear arms was reduced by 35 per cent between 1348 and 1349: Pini and 
Greci (1976), table x, p. 417. 

40 Biraben (1975), 1, pp. 73— 82; Del Panta (1980). For Venice, see Mueller (1979), esp. pp. 71-6. 
Carpentier (1962a) remains the fullest account of the invasion of the Black Death. 

41 Albini (1982), pp. 14—16. 

42 See Biraben (1975), 1, pp. 72— 111, on the spread of the pandemic. Corrections have been made to 

the theory (summarised in Biraben (1975) and McNeill (1976)) according to which the Low 
Countries were spared by the Black Death of 1348: Blockmans (1980). 43 Razi (1980), pp. 101— 3. 

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Plague and family life 

1 33 

up to date the list of its taxpayers and undertook a new hearth register. 44 
Everywhere, people tried to make good the lack of manpower and the 
depopulation of parishes by calling on immigration from outside: they 
attempted to halt runaway prices and wages, to reopen the channels of trade, 
to fill in the gaps in administrative, notarial and medical personnel. At Orvieto, 
where the archives examined in depth by E. Carpentier unfortunately do not 
give exact information about the purely demographic impact of the plague, 
the authorities increased measures in all these areas after 1348: they decided, 
among other tilings, to revise the Lira of the countryside, to establish a hearth 
tax - making a case for those headed by a widow or orphans - to strengthen 
family councils to protect very young and naive heirs better from swindlers of 
all kinds. 45 

The epidemic lurked underground in the 1350s, reappearing suddenly here 
and there. 46 After 1357, from Germany, where its revisitations were many, it 
spread to the west and the south. Between 1361 and 1363, and perhaps also 
from another Venetian starting-point, a large part of the west and the 
Mediterranean regions were once more its prey, and this time communities 
which had escaped the first wave of the plague were to lose up to one third of 
their inhabitants. 47 This ‘second plague’ was to be followed by other outbreaks, 
separated by an average interval of eleven or twelve years, 48 until there was a 
new great plague, at the turn of the century, which, between 1399 and 1401, 
affected above all Italy, France and the Low Countries. In Tuscany, where reg- 
isters of death or burial are sometimes preserved from this period onwards, 
die annual death rate soared, increasing sevenfold at Arezzo, seventeenfold at 
Florence: here the burials of more dian 1 1,000 individuals were recorded, but 
contemporaries spoke of 20,000 deaths, and the town would thus have lost, at 
die lowest estimate, one fifdi of its population, and more probably one third. 
At the height of the epidemic, in July 1400, the daily number of deadis in ordi- 
nary years was multiplied by forty or fifty. 49 

The first half of the fifteenth century was characterised by the staggering 
of epidemics and their frequent recurrence, as well as by the confusion with 
other forms of morbidity which makes the identification of outbreaks of 
plague more difficult than in the fourteenth century. After 1450, at least where 
registers of deadis, as at Florence or in some religious communities, make it 

44 Barbadoro (1933). 45 Carpentier (1962a), pp. 178, 181, 191. See also Bowsky (1964). 

46 Biraben (1975), 1, pp. 103—5. 47 Thus Milan: Albini (1982), p. 18. 

48 Biraben (1975), 1, p. 133, refutes the theory that the incursions of the plague can be related to the 
cycle of sun-spots but does not (p. 1 54) exclude an indirect influence as a result of the influence of 
sun-spots on the proliferation of rodents. 

49 On Florence and the libri dei mortr. Mazzi (1984); Carmichael (1986), pp. 63—6. On Arezzo: Del Panta 
0977 ), esp-P- 304. 

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possible to calculate death rates, these often once again reach high levels, with 
some acute periods of crisis occasionally evident from tables of annual 
numbers of deaths. 50 The association of the plague with shortages seems 
stronger and more frequent in the fifteenth century, but it is difficult to qualify 
the direction of this relationship. 51 

The diseases attributed to Yersinia pestis or infections giving rise to closely 
allied symptoms make contemporary diagnoses confused and questionable. It 
is hardly to be doubted, for example, that a smallpox epidemic had a very 
considerable impact on the child population from Germany to England, and 
from France to Italy, between 1359 and 1364 when die second, unquestionably 
bubonic, plague was developing, perhaps rightly called ‘die children’s plague’ 
because it was difficult to distinguish deaths resulting from smallpox from 
those for which the plague was responsible. Moreover, recurrences of the 
plague in the years 1385-93 were combined with various epidemics; and thus, 
in 1387, the effects of induenza were mixed with diose of the plague in 
Tuscany and Germany. In the course of the fifteenth century, supposed ‘signs’ 
of the plague on the bodies of victims probably stemmed from mistakes and 
uncertainties in diagnosis; today they are readily viewed as symptoms of exan- 
thematous typhus. 52 

Contemporaries accepted the appearance of axillary or inguinal buboes as 
an irrefutable indication of plague. When they report them, we can trust their 
diagnosis and consider the presence of plague as certain (which does not 
exclude the possibility diat it hid other, related epidemics). Another indication 
put contemporary observers on the alert. The alarm was sounded among those 
responsible for health and the authorities when they noted that deaths were 
increasing in a street or a house. 53 In fact, it was perhaps the lightning spread 
of die plague in the narrow circle of a family, decimated or wiped out in a few 
days, which struck contemporaries most tragically after 1348. To annihilate 
even the innocents for the sins of the parents was surely the sign of divine 
wradi. This second indication was not without importance for the perspective 
which will soon concern us, the family. It was because it threw into confusion 
inheritances and the traditional distribution of social roles that the plague most 
threatened the legitimate order, old solidarities and die family ties which 
expressed them. 

50 See e.g. Hatcher (1986), p. 26, fig. 1. 

51 Dubois (1988a), pp. 327— 8; for an opposing view: Biraben (1975), 1, pp. 147— 54, suggests that, since 
the epidemic might — or might not — equally precede, follow or accompany famine, it is impossible 
to draw a conclusion. 

52 An illness caused by a rickettsia and transmitted by lice, it induced internal haemorrhages and 

covered the body of its victims with dark or blackish-blue marks like the so-called ‘Black Death’. 
Carmichael (1986), pp. 10—26. 53 Ibid., pp. 21, 24—5. 

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Plague and family life 



The recording of specific signs by which the imminence or presence of the 
sickness was recognised is a good way of grasping political reactions to the cat- 
aclysm of 1348 and its later recurrences and the changes which affected 
mentalities. It teaches us little, however, about profound demographic trends 
which challenged the rhythms of life and deadi and bring us back to individ- 
ual conduct. 

The second half of the fourteenth century opened on a universal cataclysm 
and, in the course of furdier outbreaks of the plague, saw its hopes of demo- 
graphic recovery crumble away. Where the figures are sufficiendy exact for the 
reactions of the population in the post-epidemic period to be analysed, one 
notes initially the premises of a prompt recovery. Let us take the hearths 
(households) of one district of the Florentine contado, the piviere of 
Sant’Appiano. Using an index of 100 in 1350, in the immediate aftermath of 
die plague, they recovered in a modest but significant fashion to 107 in 1357, 
but an inexorable decline and the plague of 1400 made them fall back to 78; in 
1427 the lowest point was reached, at index 62. 54 A second case demonstrates 
die place of the wholesale slaughter of 1348 in the string of different epidem- 
ics of die second half of the century and die possibilities for recovery which 
appeared over a long period. In the Caux region in Normandy, if the index 1 00 
is given to die number of hearths of 1314, then this index was reduced to 97 
in 1347, then fell to around 45 in about 1374-80 (of this nearly 50 per cent 
shrinkage in die population, 30 per cent is attributable to the Black Death, and 
20 per cent to the period 1357-74). The following decades saw a very clear 
demographic recovery: the index had climbed back to 65 in c. 1410. 55 

These examples of renewed growth, very quickly reversed by returns of the 
plague, could be multiplied at local level. The patterns of decline and recovery 
are different, and the variety of reactions is evidence that the violence of the 
plague, in 1348, was not an irremediable event, providentially offering histori- 
ans the sole explanation for the crises of the later medieval period. 

In fact, if one were to end die fourteenth century at c. 1385, it would be the 
dynamism of the recovery which would be most striking; die Black Death, thus 
dismissed from its exceptional position, would not be sufficient to give this 
truncated fourteenth century its sombre tonality. But if we envisage an 
extended fourteenth century, lengthened to c. 1420, the population, eroded by 
die demographic fall, would have to acknowledge its defeat. The continued 
decline from die 1330s would then appear in all its fullness and the dramatic 
fall in population brought about by the Black Death would be found to be only 

54 Muzzi (19S4), esp. p. 137. 55 Bois (1976), pp. 51—7, 2 49, 2 77- 

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i 3 6 


partially compensated for by tire recoveries of the two following decades, the 
decline in population appearing finally confirmed by the great attack at the very 
end of the century and still continuing, at a slower pace, until c. 1420—30. 

In sum, the extremely low level reached in die first decades of the fifteenth 
century - a level at which the population was to remain for a long while - put 
a stop to long-term decline and a process of demographic contraction of 
which the Black Death, in 1348, was the most spectacular moment. But the 
phases of recovery surely show that the resources of die population were not 
completely drained by the epidemics. Understanding the mechanisms of this 
long-drawn-out recession therefore presupposes analysis of the different 
constituents of the demographic profile, although, as we know, it is extremely 
difficult to assemble the necessary data for a medieval population. 

The death rate 

Let us start with the death rate, to which many writers allocate the prime role 
in regulating the equilibrium between population and resources. Indeed, it 
seems the best fitted to this role. However, even when deaths are accurately 
recorded in a closed population, such as a religious community, or any other 
professional group, only exceptionally is its composition by age, and thus the 
distribution of deaths by age, known; 56 and it is still more unusual to follow a 
specific group from birth, to observe the mortality quotients by age and cal- 
culate life expectancy. 

Many calculations concerning the characteristics of the medieval death rate 
are therefore based on the estimated or probable allocation of ages to deaths 
in these groups of adults. Analyses have been directed towards groups of dig- 
nitaries, ruling families or religious communities; advances in prosopograph- 
ical method will undoubtedly enrich the materials necessary for such an 
approach. 57 These enquiries have brought to light the shortened lifespan, at die 
end of die fourteenth century, for which a survivor of the infantile mortality 
toll could still hope. In the last quarter of the fourteenth century, a young 
English prince would thus have lost eight years in relation to the average 
portion his equivalent could reckon with at the end of the diirteenth century. 58 

56 Thus the analysis conducted by Biraben on the death rate of 1 27 French bishops occupying their 
sees in 1355 until the total extinction of their cohort in 1391, i.e. in thirty-six years, takes no account 
of their age when they took office: Biraben (1975), 1, pp. 177—84 and table at p. 185. 

57 We should note, however, that they are generally distorted by the uncertainty concerning the point 
of entry into the group and their age at that time, which makes the construction of cohorts risky: 
Rosenthal (1973). 

58 Ibid., p. 293, tables ia, ib. See also the earlier studies on the English dukes: Hollingsworth (1957); 
and on the longevity of English princes: Russell (1948), p. 180. 

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Plague and family life 


From this reduction in life expectancy, there resulted a shift towards lower ages 
in the distribution of deaths. Among English peers, for instance, the ages for 
half of the deceased were below fifty during the entire period 13 50-1 500, but 
for almost three-quarters if observation is confined to the generation born 
between 1350 and 1375. 

Using model life-tables, the life expectancy of these adults has been esti- 
mated and compared between one period and another: it is usually around 
thirty years for men who had reached the age of twenty. 5 ' 1 In some communi- 
ties or religious orders, where the ages of entry into an institution, and exit on 
death, are known - or can be estimated - portions of mortality-tables have 
been constructed. Among the Benedictine monks of the priory of Christ 
Church, Canterbury, whose age of recruitment is assumed to be constant, the 
life expectancy, twenty or twenty- five years, was clearly lower in die generation 
of monks born in the second quarter of die fifteendi century who entered 
between 1445 and 1480 than among those who entered after 1395. 60 We should 
also note that, compared to the congregation of Saint-Maur in the seventeenth 
and eighteenth centuries, deadi had a much higher impact on the young 
Benedictines of the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries than on the young 
mauristes three centuries later. 61 

The distribution of ages, in a close and protected community, can some- 
times be observed. The convent of Longchamp, near Paris, had 46 per cent 
adult women (twenty to sixty years) and 24 per cent older religious in 1 3 2 5 , but 
one third in both these groups in 1402. 62 We should remember that the age 
structure reflects die events that had affected the different generations better 
dian the level of general mortality. Here the greater youth of nuns recruited in 
die first period and the ageing population at the end of die fourteendi century 
probably stem from changes which affected recruitment. 

Was it die same with die global population and its reactions to the stress of 
die epidemics? The rare age-pyramids available to us between die fourteendi and 
die beginning of die fifteendi century also bear witness to an ageing population. 
The population of die litde town of Prato, near Florence, displayed some 
dynamism in 1371, shortiy after die plague of 1363 had made drastic inroads; the 
comparison of this pyramid with that of 1427, almost two generations later, 

59 Hollingsworth (1957), pp. 10— 11, and cf. Hollingsworth (1977). 60 Hatcher (1986), pp. 28—9. 

61 Ibid., pp. 36—7; the 8,000 mauristes have been examined in Le Bras and Dinet (1980). However, the 
English peers of the late sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries had a life expectancy that was 
scarcely better and often worse than that which has been postulated for the peers of the fourteenth 
and the fifteenth centuries; see Rosenthal (1973); Hollingsworth (1964), p. 56. See also 
Vandenbroucke (1985); the author notes a perceptible fall in life expectancy among the Knights of 
the Golden Fleece born after 1 500 in relation to their fifteenth-century predecessors. 

62 Dubois (1988a), p. 363. 

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shows that die recovery recorded dien did not hinder, in die medium term, die 
shift of equilibrium in favour of die top of the pyramid, to die detriment of 
groups of the youngest ages. 63 In the first quarter of die fifteenth century, die 
population stabilised at die lowest level, and to some extent everywhere die 
youngest age categories were eroded in relation to the oldest. At Reims, in 1422, 
in die parish of St Peter’s, those under fifteen years (domestic servants and 
apprentices were, it is true, not counted in this group, although there were many 
in the town) constituted scarcely a quarter of die population, and those sixty 
years and more, 7 per cent, while at Verona, in 1425, the first counted for 29 per 
cent but the second for 1 5 per cent. 64 At Florence, in 1427, die same groups of 
ages counted for 39 and 1 2 per cent respectively of the population, still very far 
from the proportions in a population in a growdi phase. 

We should not be misled by the apparent longevity of adult males frequendy 
from privileged groups, and the real intiuence undeniably exerted by the old. 
From the demographic viewpoint, in the fourteenth century, the increased 
weight of the old conceals a reduction in life expectancy, even though, at 
twenty, it has been estimated at some thirty years and survivors of that age 
could still reach a very old age. 65 Moreover, life expectancy at birth remains 
highly conjectural, since it is almost always impossible for us to construct a 
mortality-table based on cohorts. The experiment may be attempted where 
there is - as in family records - exact evidence about birdis, marriages and 
deaths, permitting the reconstruction of families; but enquiries of diis kind 
generally deal widi very small numbers of individuals. With an infant mortal- 
ity rate of 28 per cent for some families in the Limousin and using mortality- 
tables, we can infer that life expectancy at birth did not exceed thirty years; this 
was scarcely higher in Florentine families who have left us their records, and 
its lowest point, here too, was reached in the first quarter of the fifteenth 
century. 66 But we are far from being able to examine exactly its variations 
between the end of the thirteenth century and die beginning of the fifteenth. 
The differences in the death rate dependent on age and gender, in particular in 
the groups of ages of children, remain equally little known. 

Birth rate and fertility 

The same lacunae characterise our knowledge of other constituents of die 
demographic profile. The birth rate suffers from an absence of data on the 

63 Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber (1978), pp. 374—8 and figs. 21A, 21B. On the estimo of 1371— 2, see Fiumi 
(1968), pp. 88—101; the statements date from the last months of 1371, the drawing up from January 
1372. 64 Desportes (1966), p. 497; Herlihy (1973), p. 101. 

65 Guenee (1986) has recendy raised the problem. See also Vandenbroucke (1985), table 2, p. ion. 

66 Biget and Tricard (1981); Klapisch-Zuber (1995) and (1998). 

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Plague and family life 


total population, and nuptiality has additionally to reckon with a considerable 
ignorance concerning the age of spouses. As for fertility, it is virtually 
unapproachable, other than by indulging in a series of hypotheses; the female 
part of the population is in fact much less well documented and recorded than 
tire male, widi the exception of a slim upper strata of society, and even in those 
milieux the registration of births was partial and irregular. However, some 
results may be advanced. 

Age-pyramids and graphs of the movements in birdis and deaths suggest 
interaction between a crisis of mortality and the birth rate. Age-pyramids 
reveal the outline not only of these crises, but of upsurges of birdis once they 
had passed. The age -pyramids of Prato and the surrounding countryside in 
1371 present a very clear trough at the levels of die young generations hit, eight 
years earlier, by the ‘children’s plague’ mentioned above. But following this 
drop, at a lower level of die age -pyramid, which also corresponds to the fall in 
births resulting from the diminished generations of die Black Death of 1348, 
diere were several years of abundant births and, still lower in the pyramid, 
diree years of moderate births, probably representing the return to normal. It 
dius appears likely that, after the epidemic of 1363-4, the birth rate experi- 
enced a heightened impulse for two or three years. Perhaps, on a lesser scale, 
die very abundant generations born shortly before the drawing-up of the 
catasto of 1427 are also evidence for the age-pyramid of Tuscany of a jump in 
die birth rate, after the ‘minor’ plague of 1424. 67 

The link between short-term movements in mortality and natality is also 
evident from a comparison of graphs of baptisms and burials. This has been 
demonstrated for the modern period. 68 During a crisis of mortality, the graph 
for baptisms drops markedly; it picks up again, after some time-lag, when the 
crisis has passed. 69 At the end of the fifteenth century, in each epidemic bap- 
tisms at Florence and Bologna demonstrate drops of 1 2 to 30 per cent in rela- 
tion to normal periods, then peaks two, or sometime three, years after the 
departure of die plague. 70 At Siena, where there are registers of burials from 
1381, peaks mark the years 138 8-9, 1393 and then the two years following 1401, 
after the drops in deadi rate of the preceding years. 71 

To what should we attribute the fall in the number of baptisms during the 
crisis? Undoubtedly we must take account of the flight out of town of a 

67 Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber (1978), pp. 376—7, fig. 21 and 382—3, fig. 23. 68 Livi Bacci (1978a). 

69 See the examples cited and the graphs analysed at Auriol before, during and after the plague of 
1720— 1 by Biraben (1975), 1, pp. 310—31. 

70 Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber (1978), pp. 182—7 , figs- 2_ 3, and p. 197, table 20; Bellettini (1961), 
pp. 87—90; Livi Bacci (1978b), pp. 63—91. 

71 Following the figures published by Ottolenghi (1903). A critical study of these data has yet to be 

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considerable proportion of couples and the baptism of their new-born 
children in other parishes. But were falls in the year which followed, rather than 
the result of amenorrhoea comparable to that produced by famine, the con- 
sequence of fear on the behaviour of spouses during tire plague, a fear which 
would express itself through the interruption of conjugal relations in these 
times of penitence and dread? 72 

A twofold observation, often made by contemporaries, refers to the extreme 
fecundity of women after an outbreak of the plague and to the nuptial frenzy 
which seized the survivors. This appears, moreover, to be borne out by a 
comparison of the fertility and ultimate descendants of couples made just 
before and just after die epidemic. 73 Can this be substantiated at the end of the 
Middle Ages? 

The families of the fourteenth century were prolific. Assertions of this kind 
are generally based on examples drawn from royal or princely genealogies; 
generalisation to the entire population of results obtained from such a very 
small number and such an extremely unrepresentative social group clearly does 
not win support any more than conclusions based on the counting of surviv- 
ing descendants known through their parents’ wills. On the other hand, with 
family records, we come close to the characteristics of fertility in town- 
dwelling milieux of lower rank. 74 Between 1350 and 1 500, the six couples from 
Limoges studied byJ.-L. Biget and J. Tricard begot an average of 9.8 children 
each; but at least 54 per cent of these 59 children did not reach adulthood. 
Furthermore, die average for all families (including both families living until 
the end of die wife’s fecundity - completed families — and families prematurely 
interrupted by the death of one of the spouses - families achevees) was only 6.9. 75 
At Arras, four families constituted between 1389 and 1470 engendered an 
average of 9.75 children. 76 The figures are comparable at Florence, between 
1290 and 1530: if, in the completed families studied, an average of 1 1 children were 
born, compared with only 6.4 in the families achevees, it can be calculated that for 
all families, 1 1 3 in number, where the mother was married before she was 
twenty years old, the theoretical descent after diirty years of marriage would 
be 9.3 children. 77 

A very high fertility level, therefore, but not at all ‘natural’. Does this indi- 
cate that it still had some reserves, to which the population could appeal to 

72 These reactions are discussed in detail by Biraben in the case of Auriol: Biraben (1975), 1, pp. 323-31. 

73 Ibid., p. 330. 

74 Separate pieces of information are often put forward to demonstrate the prolific character of par- 

ticular families, but the selection of these isolated cases runs the risk of being precisely made out of 
the number of their children: see the families of eighteen children in twenty-five years of marriage 
and of fourteen children in a union of thirty-one years cited by Chevalier (1975), 11, pp. 318—19 n. 
51. 75 Biget and Tricard (1981), p. 343. 76 Delmaire (1983). 77 Klapisch-Zuber (1988). 

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Plague and family life 


counterbalance the inroads of epidemics? Recent studies in historical 
demography have clarified the mechanisms by which the populations of pre- 
modern Europe responded to variations in the death rate. 78 They tend to 
highlight the role of nuptiality, more perceptible than fertility, and more 
immediately modified in its two constituent parts, the frequency of marriage 
and the age at which it is established. 


If we superimpose, where we are fortunate enough to possess simultaneously 
statistics of them, such as at Givry in Burgundy, the graph of marriages on that 
of burials, one can see that die former are interrupted during an epidemic, but 
peak immediately afterwards and still remain firm at a higher level than normal 
in the second year following the plague. 79 Of these new unions, deferred while 
death reigned, many were between widows and widowers who, once die epi- 
demic had passed, hastened to remarry as quickly as possible; but marriage was 
also open to young people who had delayed their plans or who, becoming free 
to marry because diey had come into an inheritance, a landholding or a busi- 
ness, endeavoured to establish themselves as soon as possible. 80 The higher 
fertility level of these new couples would in its turn explain the jump in the 
birth rate in the second year after an outbreak of die plague. 

The more numerous births in the town of Prato and the surrounding coun- 
tryside appearing in 1371, on die age-pyramid at the level of the years 1365-7, 
probably conceal a trend of this kind, a rush for marriage in the aftermath of 
die plague of 1363. Two aspects attract attention here: the proportion of those 
married was very high in 1371, and die average age of first marriage (calculated 
from the proportions of married people at each age) very low. Two generations 
later, in 1427, the catasto was to show that the matrimonial behaviour of the 
grandchildren, both town- and country-dwellers, was no longer that of dieir 
grandparents: the marriage of girls, in this region of Tuscany, was deferred by 
one or two years, diat of boys for two to three years. 81 It thus seems likely that 
at the end of die fourteenth century the age and frequency of marriage in 
Tuscany was adjusted to boost the birth rate. 

78 Wrigley (1969); Wrigley and Schofield (1981), p. 425; Dupaquier (1972); Bideau (1983); Klapisch- 
Zuber (1993). 79 Gras (1939) and analysis by Biraben (1975), 1, pp. 1 57—62. 

80 Biraben (1975), 1, pp. 3 1 8—21, for the example of Auriol between 1701 and 1740, where the propor- 
tion of those remarried in the total of marriages celebrated was almost 1 5 per cent before the plague, 
fell — as first marriages did — during it and climbed to 64 per cent immediately afterwards. 

81 Calculated by I lajnal’s method from the proportion of married individuals of every age, it went from 
16.3 to 17.6 years for girls in the towns and from 15.3 to 17.3 for those in thirteen surrounding vil- 
lages, and for men from 23.8 to 26.9 in towns and from 22.3 to 24 in the same villages: Herlihy and 
Klapisch-Zuber (1978), p. 207, table 24. 

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But we know that adolescent fertility below the age of twenty is low, and that 
it is to remain lower, during the lifetime of their spouses, than that of women 
married between twenty and twenty-five years: the example of Florence 
confirms this, where fertility appears the same as that of their contemporaries 
at Limoges or Arras. In regions where girls were married very young, pressures 
therefore operated upon the male age of marriage. Without this directly 
affecting fertility - and here again the Florentine evidence corroborates it - 
these effects were of enormous social importance, for opening and closing 
access to marriage to men of twenty, or on the other hand postponing until 
their thirties the weddings of a high proportion of young people, was to ensure 
the more or less rapid replacement of the generations, and perhaps also to 
change what was regarded as desirable relations between spouses. When girls 
marry later, on the other hand, the resulting increase in births has directly tan- 
gible effects on fertility, since women between twenty and twenty- five years old 
then attain their maximum fertility. 

Some qualification should be made, however. Like the death rate, the 
nuptiality of the late Middle Ages is highly variable in the short term, much 
more ‘rigid’ and ‘glacial’ in the long term, to use the terms of L. R. Poos . 82 Let 
us therefore distinguish between the effects which, from this dual perspective, 
the first had upon the second. In the immediate future, a plague tended to con- 
centrate in the following year first marriages, simply deferred during the epi- 
demic, and thus to give a strong impetus to the recovery of the birth-rate, since 
these unions of young people were particularly fertile. If the prescribed delay 
for the remarriage of widows was respected, their new unions would raise fer- 
tility a little later. They would tend therefore to prolong the recovery of the 
birth rate into the second, or even the third, year after tire plague. In the longer 
term, however, the adjustment would take place slowly. This has been estab- 
lished from statistics over long periods in pre -modern times, where nuptiality 
moved to a different level within the space of a generation after the crises . 83 To 
produce perceptible and lasting effects, there had in fact to be profound 
changes in custom and mentality. For if the demographic world was not 
subject to biological constraints alone, matrimonial relations and beyond that 
the entire sphere of the family, did not submit to their rule without resistance. 

Two systems and a breakdown ? 

The characteristics of Tuscan nuptiality remained relatively stable despite their 
many ups and downs. From the rare figures available for the beginning of the four- 
teenth century, as from the statistics about nuptiality available from the end of the 

82 Poos (1989), p. 801. 83 Bideau and Perrenoud (1981). 

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Plague and family life 


fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries, a relatively coherent picture emerges: the age 
of marriage of women was under twenty years, much lower before 1400, less so 
c. 1 500, and more in the town than the countryside. That of men varied between 
wider limits, but was always over twenty-two years, generally remained around 
twenty-six years and touched thirty in towns and among the rich. It is difficult to 
estimate the exact proportion of confirmed bachelors; that of spinsters, on the 
other hand, was trifling, and the state of marriage or widowhood included more 
than 95 per cent of adult women after 1350. Such characteristics are not peculiar 
to Tuscany. There is a very high proportion of married or widowed women in the 
medieval towns of central and northern Italy, and in south-east and still more so 
in south-west France. In the towns of the Rhone valley and Provence, such as 
Toulouse and Perigueux, or in the village of Montaillou, women were married 
before twenty-one, men rather around twenty-seven years. 84 For the pre-modern 
period, this has also been demonstrated in Spain, and the medieval features per- 
sisted in the regions of France and Italy already cited. 85 

These characteristics undoubtedly amount to a model very different from 
that which, thirty years ago, J. Hajnal designated as the ‘European’ model of 
marriage. 86 As is well known, the societies of traditional Europe were dis- 
tinguished in relation to other human societies by the exceptionally high age of 
marriage of women and men (twenty-five years or more), by a small gap 
between the ages of spouses and by a high proportion of permanently celibate 
among both sexes. The fact that today this entirety is called rather die model 
‘of north-west Europe’ shows that important regional corrections have 
restricted the field of its application. Moreover, since 1965, Hajnal has sug- 
gested that it does not perhaps take account of the situation in England in the 
late fourteenth century, and that in other respects Mediterranean regions pos- 
sessed several of die features which he identified as belonging to a model ‘of 
eastern Europe’. 87 

The dieory of the ‘non-European’ character of English marriage had been 
suggested to Hajnal by the work of J. C. Russell using the English poll tax 
returns of 1377 to estimate nuptiality in the fourteenth century. His conclu- 
sions have been challenged and his use of documentary evidence criticised 
(while die hypodieses required to correct the data do not make interpretation 
in the contrary sense entirely convincing). 88 Studies of different English 

84 It was 20—1 years in the fifteenth century for women, 24—5 for men, for the inhabitants of the Rhone 
valley between 1440 and 1 500: Rossiaud (1976). It was 16—17 years for the women of Toulouse, 25—8 
for the men: Laribiere (1967); Higounet-Nadal (1978), pp. 282, 291—2. It was 17—18 years for the girls 
of Montaillou: Le Roy Ladurie (1975), pp. 275—9. 85 Smith (1981), summarised in Smith (1983). 

86 Hajnal (1965). 87 Ibid., pp. 119, 103, 1 20 respectively. 

88 Hatcher (1986), pp. 21—2, discussing criticisms of Russell’s analysis in Smith (1981), pp. 1 14—15, and 
( i 9 8 3 ),P- "i- 

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regions do not provide a convincing conclusion because their results are 
contradictory. At Halesowen, girls of sixteen to nineteen years married youths 
of twenty-one years before the Black Death; the abundance of land after it 
lowered this ‘non-European’ age still further. 89 Butin the Lincolnshire Fenland 
research arrived at the opposite conclusion: the ‘European’ model of marriage 
was in place before the end of die thirteenth century and became stronger with 
the plague. Should we therefore push back in time the problem of tire medieval 
origins of the west European model in England? The historian of the Fenland, 
H. E. Hallam, did not rule out the possibility that, if it was pushed back 
chronologically, one would be able to discern there a ‘Mediterranean’ or an 
‘east European’ model of marriage. 90 

This is also die conclusion which emerges from studies of other regions of 
England and northern France. Less richly served than the demographers of 
southern Europe, historians there are forced to deduce from the proportions 
of married and celibate the chances of late marriage, or of a delayed marriage, 
in die northern regions. The tendency today seems to be to come round to a 
vision of a ‘prudential’ marriage, for both young men and women. The same 
applies to Normandy after 1460, 91 at Reims in 1422, 92 and Bury St Edmunds 
in the fifteenth century; 93 but proof is too often lacking. Where diere is docu- 
mentary evidence of the real age of marriage, these data are too few, their 
results remain in half-tones: at Arras and Limoges between the end of the 
fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries, towns where young men from the bour- 
geoisie married in their twenties or thirties girls whose age was around twenty 
years, 94 the age of female marriage remains open to speculation: was it still 
medieval? Already verging on the modern ‘European’ model? The debate 
remains open. To bring it to an end, one would need patiently to accumulate 
data clarifying matrimonial behaviour, not only in the century of biological and 
familial upheavals, but in die earlier period. 

In conclusion, although nuptiality functioned as the principal demographic 
self-regulator, this role operated between limits that were not only biological 

89 Razi (1980), pp. 60-4, 136-7. It should be noted that Herlihy (198;), pp. 103-1 1, has collected evi- 
dence on the age of first marriage throughout Europe for the whole of the Middle Ages. The author 
concludes that the female age of marriage was very low everywhere until the thirteenth century and 
that the male age of marriage began to rise from the twelfth century onwards. 

90 Hallam (1985). Using the seigneurial tax upon marriage, the merchet, Hallam estimates a female age 
of first marriage of 21.4 and a male age of 26.1 years before the Black Death; the female age of mar- 
riage was to rise to 24.6 and the male to 25.5 years after the Black Death. For his part, Smith (1983), 
pp. 1 20—4, using the same documents concerning the serfs on two of these manors, calculates pro- 
portions of married and single entirely compatible with the model of north-west Europe. 

91 Bois (1976), pp. 317 and 331, for the beginning of the sixteenth century. 

92 Desportes (1966), p. 489. 93 Gottfried (1982), p. 61 n. 34. 

94 Biget and Tricard (1981), pp. 327—30; Delmaire (1983), pp. 305—6. 

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Plague and family life 


but cultural. In a demographic system based on a ‘Mediterranean’ model of 
marriage, there could be no real increase in fertility by lowering still further the 
age of female marriage and it appears to have been above all on the male age 
of marriage that the pressure of tire death rate had direct consequences. The 
effects of such a demographic strategy remained moderate and perhaps 
accounted for the fairly slow pattern of growth in the Mediterranean popula- 
tion during the Renaissance. On the other hand, in a system including a model 
of marriage ‘of north-western Europe’, manipulating the age of female mar- 
riage by a few years ensured a rapid revival of fertility and permitted more 
flexible responses in the very long term. 


At the meeting-point of many social constraints, marriage, the formation of a 
couple and the place of the domestic group among a vaster totality of social 
bonds have become central objects for the understanding of past populations. 
Nuptiality, this regulator of demographic and social life, fitted into the broader 
domestic and familial pattern: marriage fell within the province of the family 
well before being controlled by the state or even the Church. What one under- 
stands by ‘family structures’ thus imposed their requirements on demographic 
trends; in return these structures experienced die effects of die population 
movement and modifications to the demographic system. The interaction 
between family and demography demands that we forget neither of these per- 

The models 

Limited by die available sources, medievalists have long approached the 
problem of die characteristics and changes in family structures by according a 
perhaps undue significance to one of their features, the dimension of the 
family group. This ‘hearth’ (household), domestic and property-based, in the 
best-documented cases, but too often fiscal and notional for administrative 
purposes, can sometimes be measured. But what can be done with this? What 
is to be made of the assertion drat at San Gimignano, in Tuscany, while the 
inhabitants were reduced in number by approximately 3 3 per cent in the town 
and 1 5 per cent in the country between 1350 and 1427, the households, falling 
more steeply in number, included a wider range of members? 95 To explore the 
reasons for such a disjuncture between the statistics for hearths and those for 

95 Households in towns lost 5 5 per cent of their total in 1350, and those in the countryside 47 per cent, 
and their average size went from 3.5 to 4, and from 4 to 7.5, respectively: Fiumi (1962), p. 1 50. 

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people we must know the structure of households. Now diere are few exact 
population counts, household by household, in the fourteenth century: what 
the formulae of average dimension actually represent is almost always 

More than one observer has been struck by the fact that the dimension of 
the family group is virtually the same from one society to another or in the long 
term, while at the local level it could experience important fluctuations. This 
view loses sight of the essential dynamic. Let us take the example of Prato and 
its contado, whose very rich archives provide exceptional information from die 
end of the thirteenth century. The hearths then numbered an average 5.6 
persons in die contador, they had only 4. 3 in 1339,4.7m 1371 and 5 in 1427; evolu- 
tion in the town was not completely synchronised, where the hearth contained 
4.1 persons in 1298, 3.9 in 1339, 4.2 in 1371 but fell back to 3.7 in 1427. 96 What 
we know about population movement in the fourteenth century leads us to 
believe that different reasons lay behind die drops observed in 1339 and then 
in 1427. But we cannot deduce from this series of family indices that family 
organisation was related to one model rather than another, or was carried along 
in a coherent historical process. The numerical index says nothing clear about 
the nature of the bonds cementing die domestic group. It clarifies nothing 
about the accommodations with demographic constraints except in an indirect 
and obscure manner. 

Frequently, however, one sees the small size of the medieval household 
stressed and deductions made from this concerning its conjugal character. This 
has been still more apparent since a model of the family in the Europe of the 
past, constructed by observation of modern populations and articulated with 
the model of marriage discussed above, has come to provide a theoretical 
framework in which to arrange die meagre medieval evidence. According to 
this model the western couple came into being when it could set itself up, that 
is to say, when it could attain economic autonomy. At this time, the new house- 
hold chose a ‘neo-local’ residence, different from that of the parents; in the 
expectation of marriage young people accumulated the means necessary for 
their establishment by entering service with families that were already estab- 
lished. 97 The model thus convincingly integrated late nuptiality into die mech- 
anisms of social reproduction, which presupposes the movement of young 
bachelors - a reserve of extra manpower and a ‘reproductive reservoir’ - 
between the family units of production. 

From this there stemmed, not only a high proportion of young servants in 
the households of strangers, but very simple family structures, stripped of 

96 Fiumi (1968), pp. 47—8, 72—3, 89—90, 109— 1 1; Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber (1978), pp. 211— 12. 

97 The characteristics of this family have been sketched by Laslett (1973) and Hajnal (1982). 

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Plague and family life 


genealogical depth and reduced to parent-children bonds within nucleated 
units; the dimensions of such units founded on a single conjugal union showed 
the effects of every peak in the death rate and of its raised level. In a ‘European’ 
population, it would therefore be normal to find a largely dominant propor- 
tion of households organised on a conjugal basis, a tiny proportion of house- 
holds where several couples co-existed, and a very small proportion of families 
containing a widowed parent or relatives of marriageable age; finally, there 
were a large number of households keeping servants. 

Did such a model characterise the whole of Europe, and as early as the 
Middle Ages? We should not exaggerate the model. Regional studies have long 
underscored long-term phenomena, very widespread in various regions of 
Europe, which seem to contradict this dominant model. In the south of 
France, in Languedoc for example, juridical forms of association between rel- 
atives or strangers, already revealed by legal historians, have been brought out 
at the level of family practices: the tendency to ‘lineal regrouping’ ( remembre - 
ment lignager, as E. Le Roy Ladurie called it) and the establishment of frereches at 
die turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, resting on a solid contrac- 
tual framework, permanendy stamped the life of family communities, which 
increased in internal complexity, and sometimes in size, at the end of the 
Middle Ages. 98 Studies on southern Europe, which grew in number in the 
1 970s," sanction the integration of these local forms in a ‘Mediterranean’ 
model contrasting with that of the family in north-western Europe. It was 
characterised by patrivirilocal marriage, genealogical depth and the co-exis- 
tence of several couples from different generations, frequent associations of 
couples of the same generation - frereches and others - and the tendency to 
prefer relations to servants from elsewhere. 100 

The notion of a cycle of domestic development 101 has, moreover, brought 
die means of more sophisticated analysis of the assembled observations. One 
of its lessons, and by no means the least important, has been to demonstrate 
diat a system characterised by a cycle of development extended over succes- 
sive generations and by die structural complexity of the domestic group, 
adapted to a smaller size of household, close to diat of nuclear families. Such 
a system implies, in fact, the possibility of several couples living together, but 
the complexity resulting from such cohabitation is not realised at all stages of 
a cyclical development. Periodically, and for a short time, the domestic group 
became smaller, passing through a simple form, before it began again to 
expand in a later phase. 102 A high death rate, which increased the breakup of 

98 Le Roy Ladurie (1972), pp. 162—8. 

99 See the data analysed for our period by Dondarini (1984); Leverotti (1984). 

100 Smith (1981), p. 125. 101 Berkner (1972). 102 Berkner (1975). 

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unions, further weakened the chances of an observer hitting upon a point in 
the cycle when couples constituted a complex and numerous household. A 
‘Mediterranean’ model is therefore not always discernible at any one moment 
in time. That is certainly the case at the end of the Middle Ages, when die 
plague struck hard. 

The forms of the household 

The high death rate at the end of the Middle Ages shook, and perhaps 
modified, domestic structures in different ways. Admittedly, the misfortunes 
of the period disrupted families and depleted them, blurring internal hier- 
archies. However, it is important to distinguish between the consequences 
of death rates linked to subsistence crises and those of crises caused by the 
plague. The first provoked flight to the towns, the start of a wandering 
which could prove permanent and break definitively the bonds with land 
and family. High prices and famine, with the epidemics that all too often fol- 
lowed in their wake, prompted country-dwellers to abandon their lands, 
when the survivors of the family which cultivated them could not sow or 
harvest there. The poor of the cities and refugees from the hinterland 
crowded into charitable institutions. Here and there the hard-pressed 
authorities chased outside their walls desperate beggars, who went to swell 
the numbers of armed bands, devastating the countryside and besieging 
fortified towns, doubling confusion and misfortune . 1 " 3 The historians of the 
fourteenth century, and above all those of the fifteenth century, return tire- 
lessly to these movements of population, this wandering, this marginalisa- 
tion of people who had usually broken with their family, and whose family 
was shattered . 104 Many works have been devoted to attempts at rural 
recolonisation, and one suspects that reconstituting the family with fugitives 
from other devastated regions tended to establish family structures which 
were not very complex . 105 

The plague did not have the same effects. It was to the rich in the towns 
rather than the poor that it suggested flight, and that just for the period of the 
epidemic. Once the danger had passed, it indirectly stimulated a less unrea- 
soned influx towards the towns, draining off immigrants who were attracted by 
privileges and professional monopolies and who were soon to be enrolled on 

103 See the introduction to Illibro del Biadaiolo , ed. Pinto; La Ronciere (1974). On the effects of war and 
insecurity and their links with the plague, see Dubois (1988a), pp. 337-46; Biraben (1975), 1, 
pp. 139-46. 

104 See the fine picture drawn by Comba (1984), with a full bibliography of older and recent works. For 
numerous examples drawn from judicial sources: Gauvard (1991). 

105 Pinto (1984); de Moxo (1979). 

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Plague and family life 


die registers of the bourgeoisie } 06 There, too, we imagine that die families 
founded by diese new arrivals would have been neidier very substantial nor 
complex. The immigration which renewed the population of die cities deci- 
mated by the plague involved die setdement of individuals and of nuclear fam- 
ilies. 107 They thus reinforced the effects of the pressures of nuptiality evident 
after a peak in die death rate; all these developments increased the proportion 
of young couples succeeding in setting up housekeeping. 

To return to the example of Prato after the first two plagues, the pre- 
dominance of households consisting of a simple conjugal cell (65 per cent) is 
very striking in 1371. But their share fell once more to 58 per cent after 1427 
and 5 5 per cent in 1470; the difference was even greater in the contado , 108 This 
example shows that the forms taken by families in response to the pressure of 
the death rate still had no definitive character. This would be still better estab- 
lished by observing die proportions of ‘multiple’ households. With the rest of 
Tuscany, at the end of the fourteenth century, the town of Prato undoubtedly 
fell within the ‘Mediterranean’ model of the family, as is revealed by the pro- 
portion of households in which several conjugal families joined forces (14 per 
cent) — not an enormous proportion but one which remains incompatible with 
die ‘north-European’ model. Later on, at the catasto of 1427, diis proportion 
was to double (28 per cent), and a century afterwards it would almost have 
tripled (36 per cent). 

Thus, when the population stabilised, from the 1420s onwards, the standard 
family model recovered its rights and was once more visibly expressed. The 
hasty formation of new unions between 1364 and 1371, the rushed setting-up 
of young couples and immigrants only temporarily displaced the proportions 
of the different types of households; they did not, in fact, lead to profound 

Did the plagues of die fourteendi century set up, merely accentuate or, radier, 
contradict die tendency, so apparent in the Mediterranean towns and rural areas, 
to express patrilineal interdependence? In soudiern and central France, as 
pointed out above, frereches between outsiders and contractual associations 
between relatives of different generations increased. Were diese phenomena 
similar? Did diey respond to the same appeals? Did the frereches of southern 
France not seek above all to overcome insecurity, breaks in continuity in die 
occupation of a property or the cultivation of land? The desired forms of 
association dius exerted pressure for the invention of new juridical theory and 
practices. In Italy, vigorous patrilineal structures were rooted in an old legal soil, 

106 For Germany, Mols (1954—6), 1, p. 74; Dollinger (1972), pp. 113—20; Comba (1984), p. 52. For Italy, 
Pinto (1984), pp. 33—9. 107 For example Montanari (1966). 

108 Their share was 65, 5 8 arid 55 per cent, respectively; Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber (1978), pp. 518—19. 

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fertilised since well before die plagues by the renewal of Roman law and of the 
law relating to dowries in particular. In the hope of shedding light on odier 
trends and other types of familial organisation one must perhaps go back to 
before the twelfth century, before the principles of patrilineal succession 
reorganised the sphere of die family on solid foundations. 

Widows and single individuals 

Breaking die bonds which united spouses, parents and children under the same 
roof in the societies of the north, brothers and cousins or uncles and nephews 
in the south, the plagues left behind them loose aggregates of related individ- 
uals, where no conjugal structure was to be discernible for a long while. They 
increased the vestigial households, composed of single individuals, orphaned 
co-heirs, surviving spouses remaining in the marital home. Their proportion is 
striking even in urban societies where the dominant system of organisation 
would hardly make them expected. It did not fall to below 20 per cent of total 
households in Prato between 1371 and 1470 and climbed to 25 per cent in 
Florence in 1427. Rural regions made a fairly striking contrast, for Tuscan 
sharecropping (me^adrid) adapted poorly to very small family units; here, 
single individuals could only offer a marginal workforce, their presence was cut 
down to 6 per cent of the total of households (hearths) around Prato in 1371. 
By contrast, the late medieval town offered the means of survival to the 
uprooted and to all those who were the casualties of marriage and the family. 

The situation of widows is highly instructive. We generally see only those 
women who achieved autonomy in the eyes of lord or financial administration; 
the majority were widows. In the first half of the fourteenth century, the 
chances they had of appearing as such at die head of a family or of a holding 
varied according to whether they lived in the town or countryside and from 
region to region; they were dependent on the juridical conditions and die rela- 
tions of production which controlled access to rural estates locally. In the towns 
of Tuscany, dieir proportion in the population as a whole was high: at Prato, 1 9 
per cent of hearths in 1325, 24percentin i339. 109 Thefactdiatin i339aquarter 
of die households of the town were headed by widows reveals die difficulties 
encountered by diose who wished to remarry in a period when die population, 
which had stabilised at a very high level, began imperceptibly to decline: the 
town made new openings for the weakest at die moment of demographic 
upturn. In 1371, the proportion of widows who were the heads of families had 
fallen again at Prato to 16 per cent, and to 15 per cent in 1427. 110 In the 

109 Fiumi (1968), pp. 70, 80, 92. 

110 Ibid., pp. 92, 1 1 1; in the rural areas they constituted 6.7 per cent of the total households in 1427. 

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Plague and family life 

1 5 1 

surrounding rural areas, their presence was much more restricted throughout 
die entire period. Here die meyyadria governed relationships between landown- 
ers and farmers, contracts required male workers and a complete family. 111 It is 
likely that rural widows who did not remarry on the spot had no alternative 
other than to emigrate into die town or to remain on die farm taken over by an 
adult son. It is diere, in fact, that we find them in die catasto of 1427: many scrap- 
ing a living alone in the city, still more frequently living in die house of a child, 
like sharecropping, die laws relating to dowries and inheritances and their 
application in Italian customary law did not encourage economic autonomy 
among women; on die contrary, they prompted diem to become integrated 
within die household of an adult male - father, husband or son, even son-in- 
law - who would administer their dowry. Such a situation fits easily into die 
more general framework of soudiern Europe at the beginning of the fifteendi 
century, diat led to a tightening of bonds between relatives: diey were encour- 
aged to stand fast together rather dian scatter their forces. 

Things were different in north-western Europe. On English estates, for 
instance, landowners directiy controlled the marriage of female serfs in their 
lordship, taxing their marriage to outsiders and resumptions of landholdings, at 
the same time maintaining control over access to the land. 112 The proportion of 
female tenants at the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth 
centuries was much higher than in the sharecropping farms of Tuscany; the great 
majority were widows, who kept all or part of the goods of their deceased hus- 
bands. 113 The other distinctive characteristic of this period was the frequency of 
remarriage of a widow with land at her disposal: the union agreed by the lord per- 
mitted the new husband to enter into possession of a holding in exchange for 
hard cash. Now it has been demonstrated that, in the first half of the fourteenth 
century, the remarriage of widows occupied a more important place in the total- 
ity of marriages than after the Black Death. There was no lack of claimants at a 
period when free tenures were rare. Around 1300, half the marriages of serfs at 
Cottenham, in Cambridgeshire, were remarriages, a proportion which reduced 
very sharply afterwards when demographic pressure and land hunger eased. 114 

111 Witness the tiny number (1.6 per cent) of sharecropping farms (me^adria) in Florentine Tuscany 
held by households without family in 1427: Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber (1978), p. 486, table 78. 

112 Searle (1979); Goldberg (1992). 

113 Independent women constituted between 10 and 18 per cent of heads of household: see Franklin 
(1986), esp. pp. 188—9. 

114 Smith (1983), pp. 124—7; also Ravensdale (1984). There are comparable observations at Halesowen: 
of widows known from the manorial court rolls before 1349, 63 per cent remarried, but only 25 per 
cent after that date: Razi (1980), pp. 63, 138. The proportions, although smaller, remained high else- 
where: as many as 3 3 per cent of marriages at Taunton included a widow, 26 per cent at Witney 
(Oxfordshire), 14 per cent at Thornbury, where the figure comparable to Halesowen’s 63 per cent 
would be 33—7 per cent: Franklin (1986), p. 199. 

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The elevated death rate set in motion a quicker redistribution of the land, 
and the beneficiaries were the young, younger sons without inheritances who 
would henceforth choose for their marriage partner an heiress of their own 
generation in preference to a widow. 115 Widows were to be the ‘victims’ of this 
process, in so far as fewer of their number would henceforth achieve control 
of a landholding. 116 The faster replacement of the old by the young, the greater 
frequency of marriage and perhaps the lowering of tire age of first marriage 
which contributed to boosting fertility can thus be interpreted as the result of 
a complex process changing die forms of access to land and the nature of its 
beneficiaries. 117 Once again, it must be stated drat forms of social behaviour 
not rooted in the stricdy demographic sphere played a decisive role in the reac- 
tions of the population to the impact of the plagues. 

Economic strategies and cultural inheritances 

Cultural choices and inheritances also exerted a strong infiuence on family 
structures and, through them, on demography. First of all, juridical norms. A 
principle of equality restricted to male heirs (such as was applied in the later 
medieval communes of central-northern Italy) did not inevitably produce divi- 
sion and co-residence among male heirs; however, it made them desirable 
when the inherited goods lent themselves to it. Too small a piece of land would 
not sustain their daily interdependence, but a sharecropping farm adequate for 
a family had every chance of keeping a certain number of sons until they 
married and even afterwards, thus avoiding recourse to waged labour. A com- 
mercial business, on the other hand, could be divided without compelling the 
heirs to live together: when they reached adulthood, they would prefer to 
separate at the time when they divided the inheritance. Social aspirations and 
professional commitments moderated the underlying familial model, revealing 
or concealing it. 

Tuscany around 1400 is a good field for observation. Here, small landown- 
ers in marginal areas displayed the same persistent co-residence as the share- 
cropping farmers of the central contado , expressed in die high proportion of 

115 This phenomenon can be observed at Coltishall, Norfolk, between 1349 and 1359, where the 
number of women holding a farm slumped at the same time as the replacement ratio of deceased 
tenants by their surviving sons: Campbell (1984), pp. 96—9, tables 2.1, 2.2, 2.3. 

116 See, however, the more optimistic vision defended by Franklin (1986), who believes that the oppor- 
tunities for remaining at the head of a household without remarrying, extended in the demographic 
drop between 1350 and 1450, increased their autonomy, their initiatives and their happiness. 

117 However, even this is disputed; recent works insist on the high fertility of couples consisting of a 
young husband and an older widow (Schofield and Wrigley (1981), pp. 222—4); and on that of a 
middle-aged widower marrying a young girl. They challenge the more traditional view of a lower 
fertility among couples which included one remarried spouse. 

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Plague and family life 

1 5 3 

households that included several families. Families which did not live solely or 
direcdy from the land, on the other hand, did not conform to die implicit 
norms of the system: surplus sons found work elsewhere and the proportion 
of complex households fell considerably. In the towns, it was the presence or 
absence of a patrimony which determined the structure of the household. As 
between the wealth and size of a household, there was a positive correlation 
between wealth and internal complexity of the domestic group; the higher the 
social status, the more chance the family had of realising the implicit family 
model, which is regarded as characteristic of it. 118 Finally, at the two extremes 
of the socio-professional spectrum, there are two emblematic figures of the 
medieval family in all their purity. Among the poorest of poor people — who 
were in Florence, textile workers, the Ciompi — the conjugal family prevailed 
(83 per cent) with a size close to the average of the city (3.9) and this social 
group included a few single individuals as ‘multiple family households’. 119 
Among the rich, their patrons in the wool- and silk- weaving guilds, single indi- 
viduals did not live alone and remained an integral part of the family from 
which they came; as for widows, who did not always recover their dowry 
without difficulty, they also remained in the family into which they had married. 
Thus, the domestic group was not principally cemented by conjugality; almost 
one quarter of households, like those of peasants living on a farm, combined 
several families bound by their patrilineal relationship. 

In the absence of analogous sources, precise comparison with other regions 
of medieval Europe is demonstrably hazardous. In Limoges, a town of south- 
ern culture, the house of the Benoist accommodated a ‘polynuclear’ unit, 
where, at some periods, married sons and nephews lived with their descen- 
dants side by side with those of the patriarch. 120 But in northern France, we 
see father and wife succeeded by the inheriting son and his wife, rather than 
cohabiting under the same roof. Therefore, at Arras, family size appears to 
have been determined by the number of surviving children rather than by 
cohesion between generations or between heirs. 121 

Conversely, we know more about die presence of servants in the families of 
north-west Europe than in the Mediterranean south. Here, undoubtedly, the 
main sources of information — estimes or censuses of fiscal origin — took little 
account of them. 122 A man-servant living on the farm was not the rule; and a 
family had to be very wretched to agree to expose die sexual honour of its 
daughters to die dangers of a place in service. Except perhaps among the 

118 Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber (1978), pp. 469— 522. 119 Stella (1990); La Ronciere (1974). 

120 Biget and Tricard (1981), pp. 357— 8. 121 Delmaire (1983). 

122 Herlihy seems to me rashly to conclude that the larger or smaller proportion of children or young 
people in different income brackets reveals a real circulation of the young at Florence between rich 
and poor: Herlihy (1985), pp. 1 5 5—6. 

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merchant class, which willingly had its sons, still at a tender age, start their 
professional experience in a distant house, and except among aristocratic 
milieux where feudal culture dictated court service, education was not based 
on the systematic circulation of the young, as was practised in England or 
other regions of northern Europe. 123 

Socio-economic determinants, cultural factors and value systems therefore 
had direct repercussions on family organisation. They also indirectly affected 
behaviour and ultimately demographic variables. Take breast-feeding, for 
instance. Although decisions made in this sphere by Florentine parents in die 
fourteenth and fifteendi centuries were not lacking in self-interest, their 
primary justification rested on an appreciation of the positions and respective 
roles of men and women in die world-order. 124 Plainly expressed in the daily 
ethic and permissible forms of behaviour, the values and knowledge which 
impinged on the female ‘nature’, for example, were here called upon for aid, 
and made a contribution by ultimately raising fertility in some social groups. 
Similarly, the well-established hierarchy between bodi sexes served to justify, 
reinforced and implanted the Mediterranean preference for a very young wife: 
as a result the husband gained in audiority - and undoubtedly also in increased 
progeny, but the latter consequence was not the first to be cited. The ‘preven- 
tive’ or ‘corrective’ reactions which set nuptiality against biological disasters 
could only be built upon a foundation of cultural inheritances, all the more 
telling because they were inert and implicit. 

There are two models, therefore, whose implications begin to be evident. 
But the questions raised above return, still more insistently. From what date 
can this distinction be found? Do Prato in 1371 and the poll tax of 1377 signal 
the beginning of a very long-term movement, a breaking-point initiating in 
some places a process of familial concentration and in others an evolution 
towards die European specificity of pre-modern periods? Or were these only 
regressive episodes, expressing, through a small oscillation at the heart of a 
system diat was stable elsewhere, a disturbance provoked by external traumas? 
In sum, are we dealing here with epiphenomena giving a misleading picture of 
the development as a whole, or widi decisive stages in a process by which 
earlier tendencies were reversed? It is too soon to say. New pathways of 
research will have to be opened up, earlier than die fourteenth century, to 
restore their full meaning to the familial responses aroused by die irruption of 
the plague. 

123 Kussmaul (1981); Smith (1981), pp. 118—19; Desportes (1966), p. 489. Few studies have examined 
service in Italian peasant families in the Middle Ages, while more is known, if not of their numbers, 
at least about the servants in citi2ens’ households and the conditions in which they worked: 
Guarducci and Ottanelli (1982); Romano (1991). 124 Klapisch-Zuber (1983). 

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Peter Spujford 

for the purposes of discussing European commerce, the fourteenth century 
is a very difficult unit. Most of the first half of the century had much in 
common with the thirteenth century, and in many ways trading patterns in 
these years are the fruition and culmination of the so-called ‘commercial rev- 
olution’ of the long thirteenth century. In the same way trading patterns in the 
second half of the century exhibited the beginnings of many of the changes 
which accelerated in the fifteenth century. I will therefore treat the century in 
two halves, at the risk of some overlap with the chapters in the previous and 
succeeding volumes. 

Throughout the first half of the century the patterns of short-distance trade 
remained much as they were around 1300. The extensive network of markets 
and market towns already established in many parts of Europe remained vir- 
tually unchanged. Few attempts were made to create additional markets, and 
those few that were chartered were generally unsuccessful. Nevertheless, the 
medieval market economy already generally established in most parts of rural 
western Europe remained unimpaired and was consolidated. 1 Most rural pro- 
ducers continued to be able to sell at least a part of their produce for money 
without difficulty, to meet such money obligations as rents and taxes. The 
overall European money supply probably reached its medieval maximum 
towards the middle of the century. 2 

As well as the network of markets, where goods could be sold locally on a 
weekly basis, the long thirteenth century had also seen the establishment of 
numerous annual fairs, at which local produce could be sold to more distant 
customers, and more distant products purchased. This encouraged the 
development of considerable regional specialisation in agriculture, for 
example the extension of vineyards at the expense of grain in the hinterland 
of Bordeaux, or the concentration on grain production along the rivers 

1 Day (1987); Britnell (1993). 2 Spufford (1988), pp. 240— 63. 

U 5 

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flowing northwards into the Baltic. At most of these fairs a single local product 
was of dominant importance, as with the cheese fairs of Apulia, and it was 
through such fairs that die specialised produce of an area entered into long- 
distance commerce. Although most of this chapter will be concerned with 
long-distance trade, which was primarily consumption rather than production 
led, it must always be borne in mind that long-distance trade was normally tied 
to die ultimate producers through this network of local markets, and particu- 
larly of specialised annual fairs. 

There were, however, a small number of fairs of much more than regional 
importance. From the twelfth century die sequence of six two-mondily fairs 
at the four fair towns of Champagne had a supra-regional importance, and 
acted as contact points between merchants from the southern Netherlands, 
northern Italy, Paris, the Rhineland and from at least as far into the German 
parts of die empire as Meissen. These fairs were in decline by 1300. They lin- 
gered on into the fourteendi century, but were then largely places for settling 
accounts. 3 By then Champagne was no longer the right area for such interna- 
tional fairs, since merchants from northern Italy and Tuscany had established 
permanent agents in Bruges, Paris and London, who were able to transact die 
business diat had been carried on at diese fairs more efficiendy. However this 
did not provide for the interests of merchants from the German parts of die 

A handful of other fairs of international importance not only continued to 
dourish, but grew in importance through the fourteenth century into the 
fifteenth. Some are described as ‘successor fairs’ to those of Champagne, and 
like them, they were generally held beside navigable rivers and so were access- 
ible by both road and water. The most important of these were those at 
Frankfurt-on-Main, where ‘German’ merchants purchased the products of 
the Low Countries, principally woollen cloth; at Antwerp and at Bergen-op- 
Zoom on the Scheldt, where Hanseatic, Rhineland and south German mer- 
chants met not only Netherlanders, but also men from many other nations; at 
Saint-Denis, on the Seine below Paris, where the old Lendit fair achieved a 
new lease of life in turn; and also diose at Chalon on the Saone, and at Geneva 
on the Rhone. 4 

Unlike modern producer-led economies, that of fourteenth-century 
Europe was predominantly a network of consumer-led economies. Trade in 
bulky necessities was heavily determined by levels of population, particularly 
of urban populations, whilst trade in high-value commodities depended on 
the demands of a relatively narrow group of wealthy people, whose ability to 

3 Bautier (1953), pp. 97—147; Chapin (1937). 

4 Verlinden (1963), pp. 126—53; Dubois (1976); Blockmans (1991), pp. 37—50, and (1993), pp. 21—6. 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 1 5 7 

purchase luxuries depended primarily on their receipt of landed incomes in 

There is general agreement that the overall levels of population in the early 
part of the century were very high by pre-industrial standards, indeed were 
at their highest point for the whole of the Middle Ages. However, there is 
much debate about the trends in population at this time, and that, apart from 
differences between regions, urban and rural trends may have been different 
in some parts of Europe. It was more the high levels of population rather 
than trends that determined the volume of trade, particularly that of urban 
populations. Most of Europe’s principal urban centres were already concen- 
trated by 1300 in a belt that stretched from Perugia in the south to London 
in the north, taking in the cities of Tuscany and Lombardy, curving through 
those of south Germany into the Rhineland and the middle Meuse to those 
of Brabant and Flanders, and ending in those of south-east England. The 
cities of the Rhone valley formed a western edge to this belt. However, some 
major cities lay outside it, of which Paris was by far the most important. A 
subsidiary belt of urban concentration stretched out to the west, from 
Lombardy and Liguria, through Provence and Languedoc to Catalonia and 
Valencia. Around 1300, the cities of northern Italy formed the most impor- 
tant group within the ‘banana’, followed in importance by those of the south- 
ern Netherlands. 5 

All these cities needed feeding and most consumed food far beyond the 
resources of their own immediate hinterlands. Before the 1340s when urban 
populations were at an extraordinarily high level in relation to agricultural pro- 
ductivity, prices of foodstuffs were high, whilst wages were low, so that for the 
bulk of city-dwellers there was a heavy emphasis on grain-based foods, such 
as bread or pasta, and particularly on those foods that used barley and rye, 
which were cheaper than wheat. 

A few cities could rely on their hinterlands, and generated a trade in 
foodstuffs that, although very large, was not long distance. The 200,000 inhab- 
itants of Paris could rely on grain produced in die vast basin of the Seine and 
its tributaries, brought to the city by river, whilst Londoners could live on the 
resources of all southern and eastern England. 6 The governments of the states 
of northern Italy, however, had to ensure an adequate food supply, sometimes 
from a great distance and at great expense. 7 Much Mediterranean trade was 
concerned simply widt the movement of grain to northern Italy, and some of 
the greatest trading companies, like the Peruzzi of Florence, were heavily 

5 See Leguay and Klapisch-Zuber above pp. 102—6, 127—30; for a discussion with maps of the evolu- 
tion of the urban ‘blue banana’ Davids and Lucassen (1995), pp- 1 1— 19. 

6 Cazelles (1972); Keene (1989), pp. 99—1 n. 

7 Cf. Illibro del Biadiaolo , ed. Pinto, pp. 107—30, and Pinto (1972), pp. 3—84, for 1329 and 1346. 

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involved in it. 8 The evolution of bulk carriers, like die great round ships of 
Venice and Genoa, took place to meet this demand. They brought grain to 
northern Italy, not only from Apulia and Sicily, but also from Greece and the 
Black Sea, North Africa and Andalusia. The cities of the southern 
Netherlands, in a dense belt stretching from Calais to Cologne, could only par- 
tially be fed from the rich grain lands of nordiern and eastern France. They 
depended on the long-distance shipping of grain from the Baltic in die cogs 
of Hanseatic merchants. 

The northern and southern ends of the European urban belt therefore nor- 
mally relied on quite different areas for their food. There was effectively one 
partially unified grain market stretching from southern France to the eastern 
Baltic, and anodier from southern Castille to the northern shores of the Black 
Sea, with litde interconnection between the two zones except when harvests 
failed for two or more years in succession. In 1316, for example, during the 
great north European famine, which resulted from harvest failures from 
Ireland to Poland, the cities of the soudiern Netherlands suffered the worst, 
relying as they did on grain imported from a great distance rather than local 
resources. One in every ten of die inhabitants of Ypres, then a major manu- 
facturing city for luxury woollen cloth for international markets, died, pauper- 
ised to starvation, and had to be buried at public expense in only four months 
in 1317. Giovanni Villani, die prominent Florentine businessman-chronicler, 
commented that ‘die cost of all foods became so high that everyone would 
have died of starvation, had not merchants, to their great profit, arranged for 
food to be transported by sea from Sicily and Apulia’. 9 Such trading in bulky 
necessities, even carried as cheaply as the largest round ships allowed, was only 
profitable when prices were high enough to counteract die huge expense of 

The grain trade may have been die dominant trade both in local and in long- 
distance trade in die fourteenth century, but it was by no means the only bulk 
trade. Amongst ‘foodstuffs’, wine was second only to grain. Because of its bulk 
(and frequendy its low value), wine, like grain, was generally only worth carry- 
ing, except for very short distances, by water, either by sea or river. The four 
principal wine-exporting ports were Bordeaux, Seville, Naples and Candia in 
Crete. As with grain, the bulk trade in wine in the Mediterranean was far more 
important than that elsewhere. Aldiough wine was extensively produced there, 
the countryside of northern Italy does not seem to have been able to supply 
its great cities with adequate supplies of wine, any more than they could with 

8 Hunt (1994). 

9 Lucas (1930); van Werveke (1959) reprinted (1968), pp. 326—38; Giovanni Villani, Cronica , ed. Porta, 
Bk x, ch. 80. 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 1 5 9 

grain. Liguria was the sole exception, and produced more than enough wine 
for Genoese consumption. The Genoese, besides exporting their own wine, 
also supplied wine in bulk from overseas for the cities of Tuscany, whilst the 
Venetians brought in wine for Lombardy. 10 

Salt was a necessity for everyone. Furthermore it was used as the prime 
means of preserving food and no long-distance transport of fish could be 
managed without salt or oil. Unlike the market for food and drink, that for salt 
was universal, since country-dwellers had to buy it as much as townsmen. The 
trade in salt, though large, was not as considerable as that in grain and wine. 

Many of the coastlands of Europe, from Norfolk to Cyprus, had salt 
marshes, which, when properly managed, could be turned into salt pans. In the 
north, slow natural evaporation was accelerated by the use of fuel, peat, for 
example, on Walcheren, but in the south tire sun provided enough heat by 
itself. Although salt pans were to be found in many places, only a few were so 
productive that they could supply more than an immediate local market. The 
most important of these were those around the Bay of Bourgneuf just south 
of the Loire; those controlled by Catalans on Ibiza in the Balearics and in 
Sardinia; those along die coasts of Languedoc and Provence; and those con- 
trolled by Venice, particularly in and around their own lagoon. The Venetians 
also sought to buy up all the odier salt produced along the Adriatic coasts, and 
their barges carried it up the Po and its tributaries, for sale to Milan, Verona, 
Bologna and all the cities between the Appenines and the Alps. 11 Their 
attempts to create a salt monopoly in Lombardy were partially frustrated by 
die Genoese, who, aldiough they had no significant pans of their own, bought 
large quantities of salt from Provence, Languedoc and Sardinia and above all 
from Ibiza, the ‘island of salt’. The Genoese were then able to act as suppliers 
of salt to others, just as with grain, and tried to create a monopoly on the 
Tyrrhenian side of Italy like that of the Venetians in the Adriatic. Tuscany 
bought its salt from Genoese, as did the Papal States, and the kingdom of 
Naples, Furthermore, they challenged die Venetian monopoly in Lombardy 
itself. Salt was the product most often found in die passes behind Genoa, and 
many diousands of mule loads were carried over the mountains to Piedmont. 

Sea salt was not the only salt of medieval Europe. Brine wells and salt mines 
existed in many places, though most, like so many of die coastal salt pans, had 
only a local or regional importance. The salt from the brine wells of Cheshire, 
for example, essentially supplied die needs of midland and nordiern England 
and did not enter into long-distance commerce. Some mineral salt, however, 
supplied a wider market. Liineburg in nordi Germany and Hallein, which pro- 
duced the Sal?i of Salzburg, probably possessed the two largest inland sources 

10 Craeybeckx (1958); James (1971); Lloyd (19S2), pp. 83-93. 11 Hocquet (1978-9). 

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of salt, and were followed in scale by brine wells and salt mines at Salins in 
Franche Comte and Halle on the Saale in eastern Germany. 12 While salt from 
coastal pans generally began its journey by water, and often ended it by road, 
that from brine wells and salt mines generally began its journey by road, some- 
times ending it by water. Salt thus provides an excellent example of the inter- 
dependence of road and water transport. Water transport, when available, was 
generally preferred, since salt was a commodity for which speed was not essen- 
tial, yet it was so much a necessity that the generally higher costs of road trans- 
port could normally be absorbed by eventual purchasers, along with 
considerable taxation and the profits of middlemen. 13 

Although the amount of olive oil carried about Europe and the Mediterranean 
was less bulky than that of grain, or of wine and beer, or possibly of salt, the 
quantities involved were still considerable. Olive oil was a commodity with a 
multitude of uses. The best oil was used for cooking and eating, and as an alter- 
native preservative for food. The barrels of tuna in oil exported from Tunis and 
Seville were the southern European equivalent of the barrels of salted Scania 
herring in northern Europe. It was also important as one of the key ingredients 
in making hard white soap, 14 and old oil was used for other industrial purposes, 
as the preferred alternative to rancid butter or pig fat, in tawing leather, or in oiling 
washed wool in the manufacture of cloth. The greatest production of oil was in 
southern Italy and southern Spain. In Lombardy, where much was used, none was 
produced, whilst in Tuscany some was produced, but not enough. The plentiful 
oil of southern Italy was therefore hugely exported to northern Italy, from 
Naples and the ports of Apulia. Spanish oil was carried north to Flanders and 
England. The Genoese began this trade by picking up Andalusian oil on their way 
north, but by the 1320s Spaniards were sailing north with their own oil, and by 
the 1360s Englishmen were coming south to look for olive oil, which soon ranked 
second only to iron in volume among the commodities carried to Bristol from 
Spain. Apulian and Andalusian oil was also shipped by Genoese and Catalan mer- 
chants to the Levant, Alexandria, Syria and to Asia Minor. 

The heaviest of all commodities to be carried were building materials. Stone 
and bricks were only worth carrying, even by water, for limited distances, except 
for die most luxurious, like marble from the Carrara quarries. Timber, however, 
was carried a very long way by sea and river. An early fourteendr-century list of 
commodities coming to Bruges therefore included not only great wooden 
beams from Liege, floated down tire Meuse, and wood for building from 
Germany, floated down the Rhine, but also wood for building brought by sea 
from Norway. Timber was needed for building ships as well as houses. The 
reliance of western shipbuilders on timber from the Baltic lands, particularly 

12 Mollat (196S). 13 Hocquet (1985). 14 See below p. 174. 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 1 6 1 

masts and spars, can be traced back to die later Middle Ages. As well as building 
houses and ships, wood was also needed for the innumerable barrels used for 
transporting grain and salt, furs and fish, besides wine and beer. 

The principal use of wood was as fuel, for domestic heating and cooking, in 
commercial bakeries, and for industries such as making bricks and tiles, smelt- 
ing minerals, firing pottery, brewing ale and evaporating brine. The armourers 
of Milan and Brescia, for example, had an insatiable appetite for charcoal, but 
the amount of fuel that they consumed paled into insignificance beside the 
glass makers of Murano. The glass industry was responsible not only for the 
deforestation in the hinterland, which worried Venetians, because it affected 
the supply of suitable timber for shipbuilding at die Arsenal, but also for rapid 
and destructive deforestation in Dalmatia. They drew charcoal from greater 
and greater distances, eventually even from Crete. Mineral coal was available in 
north-western Europe. Most English coalfields were being worked in a small 
way from the thirteenth century onwards. Because of transport costs, pit coal 
was only worth using in die immediate vicinity, except for the coal from the 
Northumberland coalfield, which lay sufficiently near die coast to be sent by 
sea as far as London and Bruges. The production of the Northumberland 
coalfield was surpassed by that around Liege. Outside north-western Europe 
even travelled people were so unaware of the existence of pit coal that when 
Marco Polo encountered it in Asia, he reported it as a novelty unknown in 
Europe! In addition to timber, charcoal and, in a limited number of places, 
mineral coal, later medieval Europe also used peat as a source of heat, both for 
domestic and industrial purposes. However, like mineral coal, it was expensive 
to transport and only used in large quantities close to where it was dug out. 

Iron was needed everywhere for making such things as agricultural tools like 
ploughshares. These things were generally made locally where they were 
needed, and the trade in iron was mostly one in bar iron for smiths, rather than 
in goods that had been made up. Iron deposits were scattered irregularly over 
Europe and mostly served a limited area. Beyond a certain point the high costs 
of land transport pushed up die cost of iron to a prohibitive price. It was there- 
fore common only to use iron to put metal edges on essentially wooden tools 
like spades. The lower costs of transport meant that some iron, like that from 
Elba or die Basque provinces of north-western Spain, where the smelting 
works lay in or near the ports, could be transported for greater distances. 
However, most large-scale manufactures of iron objects were situated not very 
far from the sources of ore. The ore of Lombardy for example was used for 
die extensive manufacture of armour in Milan and Brescia, or that of 
Thuringia for making locks in Nuremberg. 15 

15 Sprandel (1968). 

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The most complex bulk trade was that in textiles and in the raw materials 
that were used in their manufacture, wool, alum and cotton. Much of the cloth- 
ing for the majority of the population was made of the cheaper sorts of wool- 
lens, but many clothes were not made from new cloth, but from old clothes, 
which were often made and remade many times. In large cities there were fre- 
quently guilds of rigattieri, clothes cobblers, remakers of clothes. Woollen cloth 
of various qualities was made in many parts of Europe, but even at the cheaper 
end of the market there were some areas that produced large quantities of 
cheap cloths. Many Parisians could be clothed with cheap cloth made on die 
spot, and so could the inhabitants of the southern Netherlands. It was not only 
the most expensive qualities of woollen clodi that entered into international 
trade, for much of the lower qualities also had a wide distribution, particularly 
the cloth made in Artois, Flanders, Hainault and Brabant. In the early four- 
teendi century the production of woollens in Ghent and Ypres reached its 
highest point. In several years between 13 10 and 1320 over 90,000 rolls of cloth 
were officially registered annually at Ypres. 16 It is known drat Ghent had a 
higher production, and it is probable drat at this stage cheap cloths exceeded 
luxury woollens not only in volume, but even in value. The production of cloth 
in Ghent, and particularly in Ypres, declined quite suddenly around 1320. What 
was mainly lost was the export of cheap woollens to Italy. 17 Some cheaper 
woollens continued to be exported, alongside much more expensive fabrics, by 
sea into the Baltic as far as Novgorod, both by sea by Hanseatic merchants and 
by land into Germany by the men of Cologne. Much was sold at the Frankfurt 

The other great woollen-cloth-producing area was northern Italy, although 
around 1300 the cities here were not yet self-sufficient in cheap clodi and still 
imported considerable quantities from the north. Woollen cloth nevertheless 
already dominated the economies of Tuscan cities like Prato, Pistoia and Siena, 
and even Arezzo and Volterra, but the key manufacturing city was Florence. 
Giovanni Villani described its main streets as having the form of a cross, and 
delighted to emphasise drat at die centre point of the cross was the Arte della 
Lana, the guild headquarters of the woollen cloth manufacturers. This most 
properly symbolised the way that die manufacture of woollen cloth lay at die 
heart of all die city’s concerns. According to him no less dian 30,000 people 
depended on the cloth industry, and that at a time, the late 1330s, when die total 
population of the city was in the range of 100,000—120,000, which placed 
Florence in the topmost league of European cities. If Villani is to be believed, 
a quarter to a third of die population lived by this single activity, and some 

16 Van Werveke (1947) correcting Laurent (1935). 

17 Chorley (1987), pp. 349—79, Munro (1991), pp. 1 10—48. 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 


80,000 rolls of woollen cloth were produced each year. He was possibly right 
in believing that earlier in the century Florence had actually produced more 
cloth, but of considerably less value, since it had all then been cheaper, coarser, 
cloth. 18 Whilst cheaper cloth production was shrinking slighdy in Florence and 
considerably in Flanders, it seems to have been growing in Lombard cities like 
Como, Milan, Cremona, Parma, Verona, Padua and Vicenza, where, although 
important, woollen cloth manufacture was only one activity amongst many. It 
was also growing in Languedoc and Catalonia. 

This vast production of cheap cloths used enormous quantities of cheap 
wool and alum, so generating bulk trades in wool and alum. Sheep from all the 
lands bordering on the western Mediterranean, particularly those on its south- 
ern shore, contributed their wools to the cheap Tuscan woollen industry, 19 
whilst cheap, coarse wools from Flanders itself, France, Germany, Ireland, 
Scotland and northern England were used for the low-price cloths of Flanders 
and northern France. 20 Alum was needed as a mordant and removed grease 
and oil from wool and cloth. That used in fourteenth-century Europe came 
almost exclusively from Asia Minor, and a Genoese consortium, die mahona of 
Chios, developed a near monopoly in its import. Genoese bulk carriers took it 
in large quantities to Porto Pisano and Bruges for the cloth manufacturers of 
Tuscany and of Flanders and Brabant. 

Like woollen cloth, linen was made in many places and in many qualities, 
depending on the skill of the workforce and the quality of the flax used. At the 
bottom end of the range there were very cheap and coarse fabrics, grosses toiks , 
and even some of these entered into international trade. Not all fabrics were 
for wear or domestic use. Hemp was made up into tough canvas, often used, 
for example, for wrapping rolls of superior fabrics. Up to the early fourteenth 
century the rough hempen fabrics made in the Rhone— Saone valley were 
carried to Italy across the Mont Cenis pass. Later, they were taken down the 
Rhone and shipped to Italy from Aigues-Mortes. Hemp was used too, mixed 
with cotton for sailcloth, as an alternative to linen. 

There was also increasing use of relatively cheap cotton fabrics, tire manu- 
facture of which in the earlier part of the century was focused on Lombardy. 
This rapidly growing Lombard cotton industry depended on increasing quan- 
tities of cotton imported through Venice and Genoa from Asia Minor, and 
particularly from Syria where tire best cotton was grown. Cotton cultivation 
was also taken up in Sicily and Calabria, but unlike silk, cotton could not be 
grown in northern Italy itself, and had to be imported. It was a very bulky 
commodity, best carried by sea. The cotton fabrics of Lombardy were 

18 Giovanni Villani, Cronica , ed. Porta, Bk x, ch. 257 and Bk xii, ch. 94. 

19 Melis (1990), pp. 233-50. 20 Munro (1991), p. 111. 

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exported throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, including some, 
bizarrely, sent back to Syria itself. The centres for the manufacture of cotton 
in the Po Basin were in many cases identical with those for the making of linens 
and of cheaper woollens, from Piedmont down through Lombardy proper to 
Emilia, the Romagna and the Veneto. 21 

Demands generated by the high levels of populations, particularly urban 
populations, in the first half of the century determined the size of bulk trades, 
but high populations also formed the essential background to the large and 
growing scale of trade in luxury goods, since they not only enabled employers 
to pay low wages, but also permitted landlords, both rural and urban, to take 
high rents. This produced extremely polarised societies, in which an exception- 
ally high proportion of wealth passed through the hands of the most prosper- 
ous. The increase in the demand for luxury goods had thus been backed up by 
newly liberated quantities of ready cash, arising from a revolution in rents. By 
1300 landlords essentially collected their rents in money, in place of an earlier 
mixture of goods, services and coin, amongst which coin had held the least 
important part. 

Their high, and largely money, rent rolls enabled landlords to live where they 
chose, and they frequently chose, and were sometimes compelled, to live, for 
at least part of the year, in capital cities. The growth of these had been another 
phenomenon of the thirteenth century. The possibilities of large-scale taxa- 
tion in money had also underpinned the processes of state formation, which 
had begun in earnest in die thirteenth century, but continued to be elaborated 
in the fourteenth. The demand for high-value luxuries therefore tended to be 
concentrated in capital cities and the long-distance trade in such products con- 
sequently also tended to be focused on them. Although most ‘capital cities’, 
like Paris, Ghent, London, Venice or Milan had had their greatest period of 
growth in die thirteenth century, some, like Avignon, only became capitals, or 
like Prague and Buda had their maximum period of growth in the fourteenth. 
Many of the great cities combined the role of government with other roles, as 
Ghent with manufacture, or Genoa and London with trade, or Milan, Venice 
and Florence with both manufacture and trade. Long-distance trade in high- 
value products, as in the late thirteenth century, therefore continued to be 
focused on those places where rents and taxes, and the profits of manufacture 
and trade, were primarily spent. 

What did luxury consumption consist of? To be housed, furnished, served 
and dressed better and even to drink and eat better. In many cases better just 
meant more. Particularly in diet greater wealth often meant a great deal more 
meat and fish and less bread and fewer vegetables. But it was not the larger 

21 Mazzaoui ( 1981 ). 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 


quantities of beef, pork and mutton, or even game, that made for long-distance 
trade; it was the ancillary foodstuffs, the spices and flavourings that came huge 
distances, for even if any individual noble household only consumed small 
quantities of pepper, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, 22 they added together to 
bring very considerable quantities of these commodities to western Europe 
from India and Indonesia. And tire medieval definition of spices, small goods, 
included some considerable products like cane sugar, imported for use by the 
wealthy instead of honey, but it also included drugs, like Chinese rhubarb, used 
by apothecaries, and dyestuffs used for cloth. 

Some of the trade in luxury goods ran in parallel with bulk trade. The super- 
ior wines drunk by the kings in England, and by the popes at Avignon, came 
from the best vineyards in Gascony and Burgundy respectively, but these were 
areas which also produced cheaper wines in bulk. The largest group of luxury 
products to be carried for long distances were luxury textiles of various sorts, 
but clothes for the rich involved not only textiles, but also furs. The furs used 
so extensively in western Europe for trimming garments, and, more luxuri- 
ously, for lining them, very largely came from the forests of Russia. The trap- 
pers who hunted down the beasts in the wild largely passed their skins on to 
their lords, who, in turn, sold them to local merchants who carried them to 
places where they could be bought by west Europeans. Many of the cheaper 
furs, particularly squirrel, came out through Novgorod and the Baltic, whilst 
many of the dearer furs, like ermine and sable, came out through Tana and the 
Black Sea, where they were bought by Venetians and Genoese merchants. In 
both areas another forest product, wax, was acquired in large quantities by 
western merchants, to provide the superior beeswax candles of the rich, with 
their wicks of cotton. We have scattered statistics for the scale of the north- 
ern fur trade. In the winter of 1336-7 there were 160 fur-buying merchants at 
tire Peterhof, the Hanseatic ‘factory’ or kontor'm Novgorod, principally men of 
Liibeck. The unprepared skins were packed in large barrels for the journey. 
One ship sailing to Liibeck in 1368 carried seventeen such barrels, containing 
between 75,000 and 100,000 furs in all. 23 Italian purchasers of furs, like their 
Hanseatic counterparts, preferred to buy skins unprepared so that a greater 
value could be added to the purchase price of the raw material by their own 

Although the forests of northern and eastern Europe were the prime 
sources of furs, they were not the only ones. Marten skins from Ireland, for 
example, were imported into west European commerce through Liverpool, 
whilst cheap rabbit fur was widely available. The skin of new-born black lambs 

22 For the smallness of the quantities consumed in England see Dyer (1989), pp. 49—85. 

23 Dollinger (1970), pp. 210—19; Veale (1966) for the next paragraph. 

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1 66 

was also treated as fur, and known to English buyers as ‘budge’. It reputedly 
owed its name to Bougie in Nordr Africa, one of the places from which it was 
exported to Italy. The best was that acquired on the Black Sea, later known as 
‘Astrakhan’. The late medieval European fur trades, whether of bulk furs, 
carried by Hanseatics, or of both bulk and luxury furs, carried by Italians, con- 
verged on Bruges. Furs were then distributed from there. They were shipped 
into England, for example, by merchants from Cologne and the Low Countries 
as well as by Englishmen. It is not surprising that the late medieval English 
gentry were able to have their clothes trimmed widi various sorts of Russian 
squirrel fur, calaber, miniver, grey or, most expensive of all, vair, with its grey 
back and white belly, whilst its aristocracy went up-market for marten, sable 
and budge. 

The luxury fabric par excellence was silk, of which the finest still came from 
China itself, and some was being brought back to Europe from China by Italian 
merchants. Before 1340, Francesco Pegolotti, possibly when running the Bardi 
branch at Famagusta, with its sub-branch in Armenia, put into his notebook 
what he could gather about the possibilities of trading with China. The whole 
point of engaging in the incredibly expensive exercise of crossing Asia by land 
was to bring back the finest silks, the mark up on which would far more than 
cover the enormous costs. 24 The letters back to Italy from die Franciscan 
bishops in China also allude in passing to the presence of Genoese merchants 
there, for example in 1326 in southern China at Zaytun, 25 the city which gave 
its name to satin. As well as silk fabrics from China, Italians were also import- 
ing silks made in Persia, Asia Minor and Syria. However, an increasing quan- 
tity of the silks worn in Europe were produced in north Italy itself. By 1300 
Lucca had already been long established as die dominant silk-weaving city of 
western Europe. The raw silk used in the Lucchese industry was partly 
imported from Sicily and Calabria, but much came from further afield, for 
example that brought by the Genoese from Asia Minor. A very litde raw silk 
was provided locally for the Lucchese from the Lunigiana, which was the first 
area to produce silk in Tuscany. The silk fabrics woven in Lucca were carried 
to all parts of Europe by Lucchese and other Tuscan merchants, who sold 
them along with the fine silk stuffs made in the Levant and the even finer ones 
that had come from China. The Lucchese fabrics began as substitutes for 
middle-eastern fabrics, diemselves originally substitutes for Chinese fabrics. 
Cendal, a light fabric, was the commonest type of silk cloth, which was exten- 
sively used for garments and their linings, for furnishings and even for banners. 

24 Pegolotti, La Pratica della Mercatnra, pp. 21 — 3 . 

25 Letter of Andrew of Perugia, bishop of Zaytun in Dawson (ed.), The Mongol Mission (repr. 1980 ), 
PP- 235-7- 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 


It was available in many plain colours and was woven in all the silk-weaving 
areas of Asia as well as in Italy. Sactant and taffeta were related to cendal. Both 
were of eastern origin (taffeta takes its name from the Persian tafia), but they 
were also woven in Europe. Samite was a heavier, stronger, more lustrous plain 
silk, mostly used for dress and furnishings, particularly favoured for embroid- 
ery. Its Greek name, which refers to its twill weave, suggests that it was origi- 
nally a Byzantine fabric, although much imitated in Italy. Satin was glossier still, 
and was made in imitation of the fabric imported originally from Zaytun. The 
heaviest and most luxurious of the plain silk fabrics were tire velvets, with their 
short but dense pile, which were possibly developed in Italy. Most of the richer 
silks were not of single colours. Patterned versions of samites and velvets were 
woven. Other patterned fourteenth-century silks were baudekins and camacas, 
the latter also originally of Asiatic origin with bird, animal, vine and other plant 
motifs. In ‘damasks’, Damascus-style fabrics, tire pattern was distinguished 
from the background not by its colour but by its texture. 26 The extraordinary 
complexity and depth of the patterns involved in many fabrics meant that silk 
weaving was much more complicated and expensive than woollen weaving. 
Brocades and brocaded velvets could be yet further enriched by the use of 
‘silver’ or ‘gold’ thread, which was actually silver or silver-gilt wire wound spi- 
rally on a silk thread. All this meant that the eventual customers for such fabrics 
were limited. They could only be afforded by emperors, kings, popes and their 
courtiers, by bishops and princes and by the very richest of the magnate of the 
great cities. 

Although most, if not all, of these fabrics were oriental in origin, they were 
refined upon by the Lucchese and other Italians. In the course of the century 
the silk industry declined in Lucca, but many Lucchese craftsmen carried their 
skills to Venice, as they had previously to Bologna in the thirteenth century. 
Venice, already one of the principal ports for the import of raw silk, then 
replaced Lucca as the most important city for producing silk fabrics. During 
die century silk industries were also established in Florence and other Tuscan 

Around 1300 there was still a large aristocratic market for heavy woollen 
cloth. However, the most luxurious cloths, which, like silks, were only sold to 
rulers and their families, and the richest of magnates, were only produced in a 
very limited number of places. At the beginning of the century die dominant 
area in which luxury cloth was produced was the southern Netherlands. When 
die production of cheap woollens largely collapsed there, diat of luxury cloth 
continued. 27 In the 1390s the Lombard illuminator of die Tacuinum Sanitatis 

26 King (1993), pp. 457-64- 

27 Munro (1991); van der Wee (1975), pp. 203—21, reprinted (1993), pp- 201—22. 

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1 68 


illustrated ‘woollen clothing’ by a tailor giving a customer a fitting, with the 
legend ‘the best is this kind from Flanders’. The crisis that afflicted the Flemish 
cloth industry did not affect the already well-established cloth industry in 
neighbouring Mechelen (Malines) and in the Brabant towns like Brussels and 
Leuven (Louvain). On the contrary, the quantity produced there increased 
rapidly in the 1520s. Even cloths from a medium-sized Brabant town like 
Tirlemont (Tienen) were for a time bought as far away as Hungary and 
Prussia. 28 Later in the century the production of luxury woollens for export 
began again in England, protected by the heavy duties on the export of English 
wool, imposed from the opening of the Hundred Years War onwards. The 
cloth manufacturers of Brabant and England drew on the skills developed in 
Flanders and encouraged tire migration of skilled men. 

In the 13 30s Giovanni Villani pointed out that a significant part of the cloth 
production in Florence was the highest quality of luxury cloth designed for the 
aristocratic market. He wrote that the total production, cheap and dear 
together, was worth no less than 1 ,200,000 gold florins, approximately equal to 
the combined annual incomes of die kings of England and France. This pro- 
duction of luxury clodr was a new development in his own lifetime. In the 
1 3 20s enterprising Florentine firms began importing the most expensive 
English wools directly to Florence. It was initially used to produce imitations 
of the luxury quality Low Countries cloth, which were genetically known as 
panni alia francesca. The most expensive of them was described as a moda di 
Doagio, just as the most expensive imported cloth had been that of Douai, in 
Flanders. It was followed in price by that a modo di Mellino and that a modo di 
Borsella or a Borsella, in imitation of the cloths of Malines and Brussels respec- 
tively. Indeed skilled workmen from Brabant were lured to Florence to help 
make these imitative cloths. Thereafter Florence produced two distinct qual- 
ities of woollen cloth. On the one hand there was that manufactured with fine- 
quality English wool for the luxury markets of the Mediterranean world, like 
the aristocracy at the Neapolitan court. It soon ceased to be thought of as an 
imitation, but was regarded as a luxury fabric in its own right, and was sold for 
even higher prices than the woollens from Flanders and Brabant. It was 
increasingly known as panna di San Martino, from the neighbourhood where its 
manufacture was concentrated. On the other hand, dr ere was still panna digarbo, 
the traditional cheaper mass-market fabric made from poorer Mediterranean 
wools. 29 

As well as long-distance trade in the luxury silks and woollen cloths them- 
selves, there was also long-distance trade in the dyestuffs used in preparing 
them for the market. The costs of dyeing varied enormously according to the 

28 Peeters (1988), pp. 165— 70. 29 Hoshino (1980) and (1983). 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 


colours used. It could be an extravagant and luxurious operation, and for the 
finest woollens represented at least a quarter, and sometimes as much as half, 
of the total production costs. The use of different colours or at least different 
shades of the same colour in patterned silks meant that they had to be dyed as 
thread, not as a finished product. Dyeing was probably die most skilled of all 
the cloth-making processes, and as well as skill, required very considerable 
capital. This was not only fixed capital in terms of buildings and vats, but above 
all working capital, for many, although not all, the dyestuff's were very costly. 
Woad, the source of common blue dye was grown in large quantities in Picardy, 
around Toulouse and in Lombardy. Madder, the most commonly used red 
dyestuff, although a plant of Persian origin, was extensively grown in France 
and the Low Countries. Other dyes, however, came from much farther afield. 
Brazil wood, from Ceylon and Java was surprisingly widely used to give a rich 
reddish-brown colour. The most expensive of all dyestuffs was ‘grain’ or 
‘kermes’. At one time it cost up to twenty-nine times as much as madder in 
Flanders. It came from two species of shield-lice, parasitic on evergreen oak 
trees, which were found in various parts of the Mediterranean from Portugal 
and Morocco to Armenia and Crete. The females were collected in May and 
June before their eggs were laid, killed and dried in die sun. When dried they 
resembled seeds or small worms, hence the names kermes, or vermiculus (from 
the Arabic and Latin respectively for small worm). Crushed and mixed with 
water, they produced a vermilion dyestuff. It was used alone for the most bril- 
liant and expensive red fabrics, but because of its expense it was often used in 
combination with other dyestuffs. All woollen fabrics dyed widi ‘grain’, even 
partially, were known as scarlets. In this way it was possible to have not only 
vermeille scarlet but also various sanguine scarlets, viokte scarlet, murry (mulberry) 
scarlet, brown ‘scarlet’, even black and dark perse-blue scarlet, and most sur- 
prising of all was green scarlet. ‘White scarlet’ seems generally to have been 
scarlet-quality cloth that had not yet been dyed . 311 It was only wordi using so 
expensive a dye on the most expensive fabrics, made from the finest quality 
English wool from the Welsh Marches or the Cotswolds. They were often also 
die largest fabrics which were sheared several times. All this made them yet 
more expensive. In Cracow at the end of the century, scarlets imported from 
Brussels and bought by the Polish royal court cost sixteen times as much per 
ell as the common cloth brought into die city which had been woven in the sur- 
rounding villages. 

The finest linen, used not only for clothing, but also for bedding and table- 
coverings, was carried vast distances. At the very beginning of die century, the 
compiler of the codex Cumanicus, probably a Genoese, put into his 

30 Munro (1983), pp. 13—70. 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 

to Pskov, 
runs. WAX 








■ Dinant-.. 


•"Rouen :* 



La Rochelle 

* MontCemsr 








to Baghdad 


• Ankara 







o 1 1 


LONDON Key consumption areas 
©Seville International banking centres 
Von * ce Important mercantile groups 

AProvms Locations at which fairs were held 

Princ I pa I trade routes 

UBtonnet Mountain passes 

0 300 miles 


Map 4 Europe’s trade, c. i 500 

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Trade in [mrteenlb-century hnrnpc 


I7 2 

Latin-Persian-Cumanic dictionary words and phrases that would be useful for 
Italian merchants trading into Persia and central Asia, where Cumanic was tire 
lingua franca. The only European commodity that Italians took in quantity to 
Persia and central Asia was linen. The compiler of this trilingual book thought 
it worthwhile to distinguish some of the different places from which export 
quality linen came. Some of his categories, ‘linen of Lombardy’, ‘linen of 
Champagne’ and ‘linen of Germany’ covered whole manufacturing areas, 
others like ‘linen of Orleans’ or ‘linens of Fabriano’ related to individual 
places. Some of his particular places, like Reims or Bergamo, fall within his 
general areas. He pinpointed most, but not all, of tire important places in 
which export quality linen was manufactured by 1300. He was, of course, 
writing from the point of view of an Italian exporting to tire east. A different, 
north European, point of view is given by the customs accounts for the port 
of London for 1390. Of something over 12,000 pieces of linen, each 50 ells 
long, imported into London, around 5,500 pieces had come from the 
Netherlands, mainly from the county of Flanders, and around 6,000 pieces 
from Westphalia. This indicates the two principal areas producing high-quality 
linen in northern Europe, a ‘Flemish’ area which stretched from Artois into 
Brabant, and the area around Osnabriick. The latter was not die source of the 
‘German’ linen sent to Asia, which came from the large Bax-growing region of 
Swabia, centring on Lake Constance, which stretched for 250 km, from the 
Lech on the east, to Basle in the west, and from die Alps nordiwards to beyond 
the upper Danube. Linen from this area was carried dirough the Alps, and so 
became available for Genoese exporters. In these specialising areas, the man- 
ufacture of linens fit to export, like that of woollens, was in the hands of mer- 
chant entrepreneurs, who oversaw the various processes involved, and saw to 
it that the linens produced conformed to fixed standards of size and quality. 

As well as producing large quantities of linens, mosdy rather expensive, 
Lombardy also engaged in the manufacture of cotton fabrics, which like wool- 
lens varied enormously in quality. Some were very luxurious, like the fine 
cotton fabrics from Milan and Cremona which were noted for their design, 
texture and colours, but most were not. There were also many cross-fibre 
fabrics, like silk-cotton and linen-wool, of which the most important by far 
were fustians, die linen-cotton mix, which combined the durability of linen 
with the fineness and softness of cotton, and was, of course, much cheaper 
than linen. The manufacture of fustians in ‘Lombardy’ grew particularly fast 
in the fourteenth century at the expense of both pure linens and pure cotton 

Closely allied with the production of linens was that of paper. The demand 
for writing material was rising rapidly with the growth of record keeping of 
every sort. Central governments led, but were followed at every level of local 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 173 

government in Church and state, and by landowners in records of estate 
management. The keeping of accounts became a regular feature at every level 
from that of the recette generate of a kingdom to the humblest hospital. In addi- 
tion there was an explosive use of the written word in business. The supply of 
parchment could not keep pace with the fast-growing demand, and paper was 
increasingly used instead, and generally took over for everyday use. Initially all 
die paper used in Christian Europe had been imported from the Muslim world. 
However Valencia and Sicily continued to make paper when reconquered by 
Christians, and in the thirteenth century paper began to be made in northern 
and central Italy, particularly in the areas of linen manufacture. In the four- 
teenth century the market in paper was dominated by that made from linen 
rags in the small town of Fabriano in the Marches, already famous for its high- 
quality linens. In due course master paper makers from Fabriano moved to set 
up paper mills elsewhere, carrying their skills with them like Lucchese silk 
manufacturers, and before the end of the century die manufacture of paper 
had crossed the Alps, like diat of fustian. The first paper made in Germany 
came from a mill on the Pegnitz just outside the walls of Nuremberg which 
was converted for this purpose in 1390 by Ulman Stromer, at the time man- 
aging director of an old-established import-export house, which had, of 
course, been importing paper, with many other commodities, from Italy, and 
therefore had a market ready for it in southern Germany. 

The weaving of carpets, for covering tables and walls as well as doors, was 
yet another replacement for a hitherto imported oriental luxury, as was tapes- 
try weaving. At the end of die century a few ‘Turkish’ and ‘Saracen’ tapestries 
were still being imported from the Levant. However, by 1350 tapestry weaving 
was well established in Paris, where the court provided a large home market, 
and the French royal family were prodigious purchasers. John II bought at least 
235 tapestries between 1350 and 1364, and his sons continued the tradition. 
Philip die Bold of Burgundy is said to have owned die finest collection of 
tapestries existing in Europe in 1400. In the soudiern Netherlands, Arras was 
for long the centre of the industry and gave its name to the product - ‘arras’, 
‘arras clodis’, ‘arazzi’ - but by 1400 Tournai was almost as important a pro- 

Tapestries were naturally sold through Bruges and distributed diroughout 
Europe. The less expensive sort, called verdure , greenery, had repetitive foliage 
patterns, and could safely be sold speculatively, but the most expensive tapes- 
tries were made with particular stories, a personnages for particular clients to 
hang in particular rooms, and had to be ordered specially. John of Gaunt, duke 
of Lancaster, had Arras tapestries woven for hanging in his palatial ‘inn’ on the 
Strand between London and Westminster. 

On a rather different scale from tapestry weaving was opus anglicanum , 

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embroidery in silks and gold thread on various fabrics, but usually on linen. 
Most of the surviving examples are ecclesiastical, elaborate copes and cha- 
subles embroidered with religious subjects, like the copes at S. Giovanni in 
Laterano, Rome, and in the Museo Civico at Bologna, which once belonged 
respectively to Popes Boniface VIII (1294-1303) and Benedict XI (1303-4). 
Documentary evidence, however, indicates that there was a considerable 
secular market as well, although little survives. We know that Henry III of 
England purchased it, and English royal accounts for tire next two centuries 
continue to show the kings of England and members of their families as 
customers of the London ‘broderers’. Embroidered robes once existed in 
quantity, and were worn, for example, by Edward III, his queen and his son, 
Edward die Black Prince. Of these only an embroidered surcoat of the Black 
Prince survives, in Canterbury Cathedral. Matching sets of bed furnishings - 
coverlet, tester, cushions and hangings - were also embroidered. 

Just as the broderers in the English capital developed somediing of a 
monopoly in supplying the highest quality embroidery to rulers, nobles and 
greater prelates throughout Europe, the ivory carvers of Paris did much die 
same. There was a large home market to support them, but they also found 
markets diroughout Europe. Of over 2,000 examples of medieval European 
carved ivory in museums throughout the world the overwhelming majority are 
from Paris. Only a handful were carved in other places, at most sixty in 
England, and rather more in Italy. Almost all die surviving ivory objects can be 
dated between the 1270s and 1400. It is not clear whether diis chronology was 
mainly determined by changes in fashion, or in trading conditions outside 
Europe. Elephant tusks were bought in Acre, Alexandria and Lajazzo by 
Italian merchants, who shipped them to Marseille, Aigues-Mortes or Bruges 
for transmission to Paris, where several guilds were involved in a veritable ivory 
carvers’ quarter, where they formed a close group, living and working in a par- 
ticular area just as the broderers did in London. As with opus anglicanum , most 
of die surviving ivories are religious, small devotional carvings, pyxes for die 
host, and heads to pastoral staffs. However, documentary evidence again 
reveals that secular boxes of ivory, combs, mirrors and cups, chess men, dice 
and counters for draughts and backgammon once existed in considerable 
numbers, as did knife handles and writing tablets. 

White, olive-oil based soap was yet another product originating in die 
Muslim world. When the Castilians took over Andalusia, they continued to 
make it, and their soap, exported by sea, became the luxury soap par excellence 
for the nobility of northern Europe in the fourteenth century. The superior- 
ity of Castilian soap depended not only on abundant supplies of local oil, but 
also on the availability of alkali-rich plants to burn to produce ash suitable for 
making hard white soap. Similar soap was made in Syria, which had superior 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 

: 75 

‘soda ash’ and in olive -growing soudiern Italy at Naples and, above all, at 
Gaeta. Once Venetians, Genoese and Provencal merchants started importing 
suitable ‘soda ash’ from Egypt and Syria, soap making could be transformed 
in northern Italy and Provence as well. South Italian olive oil was their other 
key ingredient. Apulian olive oil was shipped across and up the Adriatic to 
supply tire soap makers of Ragusa, Ancona and above all Venice, whilst on the 
west coast soap was made at Savona and Genoa. The Venetians and Genoese 
competed directly with tire Castilians for the north European market. They 
also exported soap to the near east, to Frankish Greece, Constantinople, 
Turkish Asia Minor, Rhodes, Cyprus and in very considerable quantities, back 
to Syria and Egypt. All this trade was carried by sea, but with the much higher 
costs of land transport, it was problematic how far it was worth carrying such 
a heavy product by road. In practice in the late fourteenth century Venetian 
luxury white soap was about the cheapest commodity that it was profitable to 
take across tire Alps. 

Pottery, like cloth, was made everywhere, but just as luxury textiles made in 
a limited number of places entered into international trade, so did high-class 
pottery. The most favoured pottery was tin-glazed earthenware of Muslim, 
eventually Persian, origin. In the early fourteenth century Majorca was key to 
the distribution of the glazed wares of Valencia and Andalusia, hence its name 
majolica. This lustrous Hispano-Moresque tin-glazed earthenware was yet 
another commodity imitated by north Italians. Derivative majolica was pro- 
duced at Faenza in the Romagna for use as tableware, spice jars, apothecary’s 
pots, tiles and decorative pieces. 

As well as majolica there was also brass and pewter tableware for those who 
wanted something better than treen or coarse pottery, but could not rise to 
silver plate. Dinant, on the Meuse, was the most important centre for the pro- 
duction of such brass tableware, consequently known as ‘dinanderie’, which 
was exported throughout Europe. The customs accounts for Hull, not one of 
England’s most important ports, show that seven shiploads of brass ‘pots’ 
were sent there in 1310— 11, one of which consisted of 11,400 items. 
Particularly popular amongst the well-to-do were brass water containers, used 
for pouring water for hand-washing after meals, in conjunction with broad 
deep dishes. As well as tableware, brass candlesticks were exported extensively 
for domestic, as well as church, lighting, whether made to be attached to the 
wall, or stand on tables. 

Majolica, dinanderie and pewter were not the only prestigious tableware 
manufactured in Europe. There was also the luxury glass of Venice. Because 
of fire hazards the glass makers’ furnaces had been banished across die lagoon 
to the islands of Murano in 1291. The glass-making skills of Venetian artisans 
ultimately derived from Syria, and it was from Syria drat the special alkaline ash, 

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rich in sodium, had to be imported, which was one of the key ingredients of 
the superiority of Venetian glass as of its white soap. Ordinary cups and 
bottles, clear window glass and mirrors were sent out in enormous quantities, 
as well as spectacles and the prestigious and expensive polychrome bowls and 
vases, sometimes exotically enamelled, which are so much better known. As 
well as exporting Murano glass northwards and westwards, Venetians also 
exported it eastwards, to Egypt by die 1310s, and to Greece, Constantinople, 
Rhodes and die Black Sea coasts by the 1340s. 

It is no wonder that this demand for distant luxuries had brought about an 
enormous quantitative change in the volume of international trade. Moreover, 
as die amount of business focused on a limited number of particular places, 
or rather along a limited number of routes between those places, a critical mass 
was reached, so that qualitative changes in die nature of commerce had begun 
to take place as well as merely quantitative ones. Such qualitative changes in the 
ways of doing business have been dignified with the tide ‘commercial revolu- 
tion’ on the analogy of die tide ‘industrial revolution’ for changes in the organ- 
isation of manufacture. This vital transformation could only take place when 
the concentrated supply of money, and consequently of trade, rose beyond a 
certain critical point. 

Since much of the long-distance trade in high-value commodities of the 
earlier part of the century was in the hands of north Italians, it was they who, 
between c. 1250 and 1350, had elaborated most of the interlocking trading tech- 
niques which have been bundled together as this ‘commercial revolution’. 
None of these new methods of doing business was abandoned in the four- 
teendi century. Some indeed, like company structure, local banking and insur- 
ance, were elaborated furdier. Catalan merchants also adopted these ‘Italian’ 
methods of doing business, and so, by the end of the century, did some south 
German merchants. 

Until a certain critical scale of operations was reached on any particular 
route, all that occurred was an increase in die volume of trade within the tradi- 
tional framework. However, once the critical volume had been reached, die 
scale of enterprises allowed for a division of labour. Some businesses became 
large enough and continuous enough to maintain three separate parties: die 
sedentary merchants remaining full time in northern Italy, who specialised in 
the financing and organisation of import-export trade; the specialist carriers, 
whether shipowners by sea, or vectuarii by land, who took the goods from the 
principals to their agents; and die full-time agents themselves, resident over- 
seas or beyond the Alps, who devoted their energies to sales or purchases 
according to the instructions sent to diem. 

Such a threefold division of labour had naturally taken place first on the 
routes along which demand was most concentrated at an early date, those from 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 

l ll 

die ports of northern Italy to the Levant. Only a litde later, northern Italian 
colonies had begun to be found in Rome, Naples, Palermo and Tunis, and at 
die fairs of Champagne and, at the same time, colonies of agents from odier 
cities had come to settle within cities in northern Italy. Later, but still before 
1300, they were to be found in the northern capitals, at Paris and London, and 
also at some of die greater ports with wealdiy hinterlands like Bruges, Seville, 
Barcelona and Montpellier. It was therefore perfectly reasonable to expect 
early fourteendi-century firms like the Bardi or the Peruzzi of Florence to have 
branches in such cities as London or Paris or Tunis with which a great deal of 
trade was carried out. By the mid-century there were colonies of merchants 
from Genoa, Pisa and Florence not only in Tunis and Bougie, the wax from 
which gave die French their word for candle, but in all the major North African 
ports on the Barbary coast as far as Safi, in modern Morocco. There were also 
colonies of Catalan merchants from Barcelona in at least some Nordi African 
ports. Italian trade with even the largest cities east of the Rhine never reached 
diis critical scale. Even on the routes on which large businesses operated 
dirough factors resident abroad, merchants trading on a smaller scale contin- 
ued to travel with their goods. In the 1320s over 150 Catalan merchants still 
made an annual trip from Barcelona to Barbary, even though there had been 
communities of resident Catalans in some cities of the Maghreb, the North 
African littoral, for a century or more. 

The host cities made varied provision for diese resident aliens. Sometimes 
diey were given a privileged trading place, to which they were more or less 
confined, like the Hanseatic Steelyard on die London waterfront, the fondaco dei 
tedeschi for transalpine merchants in Venice, or die funduks for Italian and 
Catalan merchants in Tunis. At odier times they were less confined, like the 
merchants from the Italian states resident in Bruges, who could rent rooms in 
inns, or even houses, wherever they liked in the city, provided they had a citizen 
as guarantor, often the keeper of the inn where they lodged. However, even if 
scattered about, merchants from the same state had some sort of common 
organisation, focused on a consular house. The merchants of Venice, Genoa, 
Lucca and Florence had such consular houses in Bruges. 

A frequent limitation on foreign merchants was diat they could only trade 
with natives and not with other foreigners, or at least had to offer their goods 
first to natives and, when permitted to deal with odiers, had to use natives as 
brokers. In all trading cities, brokers were enormously important for putting 
together buyers and sellers. Innkeepers frequendy acted as brokers. The focus 
of business was die exchange at which specialised brokers of various sorts 
were to be found, at fixed hours of the day, ready to introduce to each other 
buyers and sellers of particular commodities, borrowers and lenders, shippers 
and underwriters and to put deals together between them. The first exchange 

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i 7 8 


building in Europe seems to have been the Lottja, or Lonja, in Barcelona, 
completed as early as 1392. Before buildings were put up for diem, brokers had 
congregated in particular squares which were gradually set aside for their use, 
like the Piazza dei Banchi in Genoa, the Piazza of die Rialto in Venice, or the 
square in Bruges on which the Florentines had their consular house, named 
after a wealthy family of innkeeper-brokers, the van der Beurse, or de la 

The by-products of this revolutionary commercial division of labour 
included the beginnings of international banking and the evolution of die bill 
of exchange, die creation of international trading companies which lasted for 
several years rather than for a single voyage, regular courier services to carry 
commercial correspondence (and bills of exchange), low rates of interest, the 
beginnings of local banking, and of insurance, the use of double entry book- 
keeping, and the development of commercial education. 31 

No longer did every prospective purchaser or returning vendor need to 
carry with him large and stealable quantities of precious metals, whether in 
coin, or in mark bars of silver or ounce bags of gold dust, depending on the 
trading area. Instead die static manager could send and receive remittances 
from his factors and agents by bills of exchange, which had evolved into their 
definitive form by 1300 and had become normal for commercial payments 
within die international banking network focused on die great trading cities of 
Tuscany. This network extended outwards from northern Italy to the papal 
curia at Avignon, Montpellier, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville and sometimes 
Lisbon, and northwards to Paris, Bruges and London, and southwards to 
Naples and Palermo. Even between these cities, although the majority of trans- 
actions could be carried out by bill of exchange, any eventual imbalances had 
ultimately to be setded up in gold or silver. When an imbalance between two 
banking places became too great, the rate of exchange rose (or fell) to such an 
extent that it passed one of die specie points. In other words, it temporarily 
became cheaper to transport bullion, in one direction or the odier, with all its 
attendant costs and risks, than to buy a bill of exchange. The net quantity of 
silver transported from Bruges to London or Paris to Florence, or of gold 
from Seville to Genoa did not diminish as a result of die development of bills 
of exchange, but the amount of business diat it represented was increased out 
of all proportion. The bill of exchange enormously multiplied die supply of 
money available for international transactions between these cities. 32 

Although bills of exchange were developed by merchants for merchants, 

31 De Roover (i 942), pp. 34—9, republished in Lane and Riemersma (1953), pp. 80—5 ; see also de Roover 
(1963), pp. 42—118, and (1974). 

32 De Roover (195 3); Spufford (1986), modified in Mueller (1995), pp. 121— 9. 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 1 7 9 

they had very quickly come to be used by non-merchants as well. The papacy 
was die most considerable non-commercial user of bills of exchange; its col- 
lectors used them to transmit the money diey had collected to the apostolic 
camera at Avignon. 33 Bishops travelling to the curia no longer needed to ensure 
that their chamberlains were loaded down with an adequate quantity of mark 
bars of silver. Noblemen, whether on pilgrimage or representing their princes 
on embassies, could also avail themselves of bills of exchange. There were, 
however, limits. Certain international political payments, such as wages for 
armies, subsidies for expensive allies, royal dowries or ransoms like that of 
John II of France, could easily prove too large for the normal commercial 
system to handle, and so had to be transmitted largely, or wholly, in silver or 
gold. For example, when John XXII needed to pay 60,000 florins to the papal 
army in Lombardy in 1328, he had to send it all in coin. That episode provides 
an excellent example of die risks involved in carrying coin, for, despite a guard 
of 150 cavalry, the convoy was ambushed and over half the money lost on the 
way. Nevertheless a very large proportion of normal payments within this 
network of cities was made by bill of exchange by the early fourteenth century. 

Outside this range of banking places, even ordinary international payments 
had still to be made primarily in bullion. Where there was a large and continu- 
ous imbalance of trade, as there was between the mining centres of Europe 
and the commercially advanced areas, a bill-of- exchange system had little 
chance of developing. In the fourteenth century, papal collectors in Poland, 
Hungary or Austria still had to take bullion to Bruges or Venice before they 
could make use of the western European banking system, despite the earnest 
but unavailing request of Benedict XII that Florentine firms should open 
branches in Cracow. At the very end of the century bills of exchange began to 
be occasionally used by south German merchants, but throughout the century 
even the most prominent trading cities elsewhere in Germany, such as Liibeck, 
basically remained outside this network of exchanges. Similarly bills were of 
little use for payments from Italy eastwards, although occasionally from the 
Levant to Italy. 

The early fourteenth century witnessed die heyday of the giant Tuscan 
trading companies with numerous employees scattered about branches in 
many different cities, but their organisation went back to mid-thirteenth- 
century companies like the Bonsignori in Siena, Riccardi in Lucca and Cerchi 
in Florence. Florence and Lucca were at their peak early in the century but 
Siena, although still important, was already beginning to decline as a trading 
city. Although this form of multi-branched international trading company was 
typical of the largest enterprises in Tuscany, parallel but slightly different forms 

33 Renouard (1941) and Favier (1966). 

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were growing up elsewhere in northern Italy in Venice, Genoa and Milan. 34 
The Bardi of Florence, probably die largest medieval company, when renewed 
in 1318, had a capital of 875,000 gold Borins, considerably greater than die 
annual income of any ruler in Europe, even the king of France. At die previ- 
ous restructuring in 1310, its capital had been divided into as many as fifty- six 
shares. 35 Such shares were transmissible within the lifetime of a company 
without breaking up the partnership. They were held not only by members of 
the founding families of a company, and by its principal employees, who were 
encouraged to put their savings into their own company, but also by odier rich 
men. These were investors not at all concerned with the actual running of die 

Many Tuscan companies from the thirteenth century onwards used short- 
term borrowing at low fixed interest, beyond the shareholders’ subscribed 
capital, to increase their resources. The ready availability of loans for business 
purposes at a much lower rate of interest than elsewhere was a key factor in 
commercial success. At the beginning of the century annual commercial inter- 
est rates in northern Italy were generally well below 10 per cent. Even in 
Flanders rates were not lower than 16 per cent, which gave Italians a tremen- 
dous competitive edge. 36 

Some of this cheap money was made available through local banks. Whereas 
international banking grew up in parallel with import-export operations, local 
deposit banking was grafted on to the work of money-changers, in many cities 
around the western Mediterranean and in the southern Netherlands, from 
Bruges to Liege. 37 They offered their current account customers the safety of 
their vaults and the convenience of being able to make book payments to other 
account holders. Deposit account holders, often religious houses or orphans, 
received interest on their deposits which die banker then invested, along with 
a proportion of the money of the current account holders. International 
Italian trading companies were also prepared to accept deposits at any of their 
branches. In the first half of the fourteenth century great English noblemen 
placed appreciable funds with the London branches of Florentine companies. 
The earl of Lincoln had money with the Frescobaldi, the earl of Hereford with 
the Pulci, and the younger Despenser with the Bardi and Peruzzi. 38 

Another key to commercial success was the acquisition of economic 
information faster than one’s rivals. Agents and factors therefore reported 
often to their principals, and received a constant stream of instructions; their 
firms paid for frequent couriers to carry commercial correspondence, and bills 
of exchange, between business centres. Furthermore the risks involved in 

34 Renouard (1968), pp. 107— 247. 35 Sapori (1926). 36 P. Spufford (1995), pp. 303-37. 

37 De Roover (1954), pp. 38-76, reprinted in (1974). 38 Fryde (1951). PP- 344-62. 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 1 8 1 

sending unaccompanied goods were spread by die development of embryonic 
forms of maritime insurance, in which the Venetians took the lead. 

The sedentary merchant at home was no longer a simple individual capital- 
ist. As head of a company he was also a manager responsible to his share- 
holders and depositors, and in complex business relationships with factors, 
agents, carriers, innkeepers, insurers, sub-contractors, suppliers and customers 
scattered over much of western Europe and the Mediterranean. Those who 
ran such firms had consequently to keep an enormous number of account 
books, which began to use new systems of double entry book-keeping. 39 Such 
businesses assumed the literacy and numeracy of all those with whom they had 
to deal, and depended on an extensive educational infrastructure which could 
ensure not merely reading and writing skills, but also commercial arithmetic. 

Secular, vernacular, education was already well established in Italy and the 
southern Netherlands. In the new flood of surviving documentation after 
1300, there appears also a flood of school teachers, in Liguria, Lombardy, the 
Veneto and Tuscany. In die commercial and industrial city of Lucca, the 
commune paid in 1345 for an abbachista , a teacher of commercial arithmetic, 
who also taught book-keeping and served as an accountant to the commune, 
with a rent-free house. The rationale for the commune’s expenditure was that 
the citizens of Lucca were ‘much engaged in business, which can hardly be 
carried on if one is ignorant in arithmetic and abacus’. The commune’s provi- 
sion of part of die appropriate educational infrastructure no doubt helped to 
keep Lucchese businessmen prominent in international trade. 40 

It is no wonder that, in this world of commercial paper, Tuscan, particularly 
Florentine, businessmen seem to have had an addiction to making memo- 
randa. Very many libri di ricordanye survive. Most are primarily concerned with 
personal and family affairs; some combine personal and business affairs, yet 
others, like that kept by Francesco Pegolotti, an employee of the Bardi 
company, are just filled with useful notes for business purposes. 41 

As well as a transformation in die methods of trading, there was also a consid- 
erable change both in the routes of trade and the means of transport. The key 
land trade routes of thirteenth-century Europe may be represented as a tri- 
angle. On the west lay the combination of road and river routes running from 
Flanders to Tuscany, passing through Champagne, where they connected with 
Paris, which was then the greatest single consumption centre in Europe, and 
across Alpine passes, the Great Saint-Bernard, die Simplon and the Mont 
Cenis, to become the via Francigena in Italy. On the east lay the routes from 

39 De Roover (1956), pp. 1 14—74. 40 M. Spufford (1995), pp. 229—83. 

41 Spufford (1991), pp. 103— 20. 

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Tuscany to the mining areas of central Europe, which left Italy by the Tarvis 
pass and went on through Vienna. Flanders was similarly linked to the mining 
areas by the road running ‘from England to Hungary, from the sea coast across 
the plains of Flanders, and then from Tongres through [MaasjTricht into 
Cologne’. 42 The replacement of the triangle of key thirteenth-century land 
routes by a web of fifteendi-century routes radiating outwards from south 
Germany was not a direct succession. Although so many goods were carried 
overland in both the mid-thirteenth century and the late fifteenth century, in 
the fourteenth century much trade was carried by sea. 43 

From tire corners of the thirteenth-century triangle of great land routes, 
further routes extended outwards; many were sea routes. Trade by road and 
river and trade by sea were in most cases complementary. The sea routes of tire 
Mediterranean, the North Sea and the Baltic joined die overland routes across 
Europe. From Bruges, there were not only the short Channel crossings to 
England, but also the Hanseatic routes through the North Sea and the Baltic. 
From Genoa, Pisa and Venice, there were sea routes to the Maghreb and die 
Levant. From the mines of Meissen, Bohemia and Slovakia a route led east- 
wards, north of the chain of mountains, to Cracow, Kiev and beyond. 

Improvements in navigation and the corresponding extension of maritime 
activity, particularly by Italians, meant diat the triangular land routes were par- 
tially circumvented by much longer, but still cheaper, sea routes. It became 
easier to reach Cracow from Italy by travelling to the Black Sea in a Genoese 
carrack and thence up the Dniester through Lwow, rather than going the whole 
distance overland. It became easier to reach Cracow from Flanders by travel- 
ling to Danzig or Torun in a Hanseatic cog and thence up the Vistula, rather 
than going along die ‘road from England to Hungary’. Above all, it became 
easier to go direcdy by carrack or galley from Genoa or Venice to Bruges itself, 
rather dian travelling overland across the Alps and the Jura, Burgundy and 

The Adantic route between north-west Europe and Italy could thus be 
regarded as an alternative, and a rival, to the land and river routes across 
Europe. Travel by sea from the north to die Mediterranean had had an inter- 
mittent history since Viking times. However, it was only late in die thirteenth 
century that the sea route came to be much used for commercial purposes. The 
successes of the Christian ‘reconquest’ of the Iberian peninsula provided suit- 
able stopping places to make the journey commercially viable. A Genoese 
community was known in Seville from the year of its capture in 1 248. Seville 

42 So called by Hendrik van Veldeke, one of the earliest writers of love songs in the German vernac- 


43 See the chapters in the thirteenth- and fifteenth-century volumes for more detail of these land 


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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 183 

became not only a gateway for Italian, particularly Genoese, exploitation of the 
commercial opportunities provided by its Andalusian hinterland, but also an 
excellent staging point for journeying onwards into the Adantic. It was, of 
course, not the only such staging point. In the fourteenth century the Genoese 
community in Seville was rivalled in size by that in Cadiz, which had itself been 
reconquered in 1265. Cadiz possessed a better harbour, but not such a rich 
hinterland. The Genoese community in Seville was possibly also rivalled by 
that at Malaga, which had an even better harbour, but lay in the unrecon- 
quered kingdom of Granada. There was yet another, smaller, Genoese com- 
munity in Lisbon. Genoese ships were next to be found rounding Spain and 
trading as far as La Rochelle. The earliest Genoese galleys known to have gone 
all the way to Flanders did so in 1 277, and may have been preceded by Catalan 
ships. Such trading voyages were initially sporadic, but became more common 
as time went on, but it was only in the fourteenth century that regular voyages 

Political circumstances also brought about a severe disruption of the land 
route across Champagne to Flanders. Wars between Philip IV and Flanders 
and in northern Italy itself caused trade to move away from the traditional 
route across eastern France. This was reflected in falling returns from the tolls 
at the passes in die Jura and the western Alps. As well as a shift by overland 
carriers to a Rhineland route, some merchants took advantage of the oppor- 
tunity of sending goods by the new sea route. 

As long as this was only a galley route, it was an expensive alternative to car- 
riage by road and river, for galleys with their huge complement of men were 
very costly to operate. The earliest Venetian ‘great galleys’, enlarged mercan- 
tile versions of the traditional Mediterranean many oared men-of-war, which 
were introduced around 1 290, required nearly 200 crew, predominantly rowers, 
for only fifty tons of cargo. In 1314 the Venetian government ordered special 
galleys to be built for the voyage to Flanders. They were of a slightly larger size 
than those used exclusively in the Mediterranean, ‘alia misure di Romania’. In 
1318 those which were to face the Atlantic, ‘alia misura di Fiandra’ were 40 
metres long, 5 metres wide amidships and 2% metres high. In the course of the 
next quarter century tire Venetians built their ‘great galleys’ larger and larger 
until they were threefold their original size. In 1344 they could carry around 
300 milliaria (1 50 tons) of cargo. By 1400 they were being built slightly larger 
still, had a second mast and had become rather more sailing than rowing 
vessels, although they continued to carry a large complement of rowers. 
Regulations of 1412 stipulated that there should be 1 70 properly paid oarsmen, 
all free Venetians, not convicts or slaves, among a total crew of around 250. 
Such manning levels meant that, although they were appreciably less costly to 
operate than in the 1 290s, they were still prodigiously dear to run, and still had 

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much less capacity than the round ships, which were themselves being built 
bigger. Although the Venetians kept diem on, the Genoese soon abandoned 
the commercial use of galleys because they were so expensive. For most of the 
century the only Genoese galleys were state -owned war galleys kept for mili- 
tary purposes. 

After 1300 die Venetian state increasingly intervened in the operation of 
merchant galleys. Alongside privately owned galleys, which were increasingly 
regulated and had to be licensed, there also began to be state-owned and -oper- 
ated galleys. In 1329 die senate opted for state -owned galleys, that were char- 
tered to private operators. Charter contracts were auctioned every year and 
it is possible to see the development of a number of regular Venetian galley 



The first known ‘Flanders’ galleys were sent out from Venice in 1315, 
although it is possible that some of the private galleys that went to die ‘west’, 
i.e. west of the Adriatic, may have gone further than North Africa, the 
Balearics and the Iberian peninsula, and reached the North Sea. Licensed fleets 
of galleys were sent to Flanders nearly every year from 1317 to 1336, but 
became very irregular in the middle years of the century, when there was, for 
a generation, a revival of road and river routes from northern Italy across 
south Germany to the Rhineland and the southern Netherlands. The Flanders 
galleys became more or less annual again from 1384. As well as Iberian ports 
they also called at English ones, sometimes Southampton, sometimes 
Sandwich and, in the 1390s, London itself, before arriving at Bruges, or, occa- 
sionally at Antwerp in Brabant. 

In the east the galleys to ‘Romania’, i.e. Constantinople and Greece, began 
intermittently, after peace was made in 1303 between Venice and the Byzantine 
empire and were regular from the 1320s. They went on into the Black Sea after 
a treaty was made with Trebizond in 1319. Successful negotiations with the 
khan of the Golden Horde meant that Venice could also send its galleys to 
Tana. In 1383 the Black Sea galleys went first to Tana and then to Trebizond. 

Galleys to ‘Oltramare’, originally the Levantine lands captured by western 
crusaders, continued after the fall of Acre, going instead to Lajazzo in 
Armenia, by way of Crete and Cyprus. They often only went as far as Cyprus 
in tire first half of die century, but regularly went on to Beirut in Syria from 
1366. Around 1300 the galleys to Alexandria went in convoy with those for 
Oltramare as far as the Venetian base at Modon (Methoni, at the south-west 
tip of tire Peloponnese) and then separated. However trading with Mamluk 
Egypt was banned by the pope from 1324 and die Alexandrian galleys did not 

44 Lane (1963) reprinted (1966), pp. 193—226; Tenenti and Vivanti (1961), pp. 83—6 and map; Lane 

G 973). pp- 126-34- 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 1 8 5 

resume until 1345. By 1400 the Venetian galleys to Alexandria were by far the 
most valuable single convoy of European shipping. 

However, even in Venice, ‘great galleys’ were only a minor, if the most pre- 
stigious, part of the merchant fleet. The larger part of this fleet, and almost the 
whole of those of Genoa, and Barcelona, was made up of sailing ships which 
grew increasingly larger, more efficient and cheaper to run as time went by. The 
trading galleys from Venice to Flanders and England may have taken spices and 
other very highly priced commodities off the trans-European trade routes, but the 
real competition for much land trade was provided by the development of bulk 
carriers that could take other merchandise between north and south more cheaply. 
The development of bulk carriers in both the Baltic and the Mediterranean was, 
of course, related to the grain trade. Carriage of grain by road for any distance 
added prohibitively to its price, and yet the cities of the southern Netherlands and 
northern Italy had to be fed with grain grown at a great distance. 

In the thirteenth century the Italians used a rather ungainly sailing ship 
known as the bucius or buss in die Mediterranean, and the Hanseatics much 
smaller, but rather more efficient cogs in the Baltic. Both had a greater capac- 
ity than even the largest of the great galleys, with crews tiny by comparison. 
The largest Hanseatic cogs could carry around 200 tons, the largest bucius 
around 500 tons. From 1300 the smaller Hanseatic cog began to be imitated in 
tire Mediterranean, where it was known as the cocca. In the course of the 
century the carrack was developed in the Mediterranean, which combined 
tire scale of the bucius with many of the advantages of the cog. Compared 
with die old bucius, a carrack of the same size needed half the number of crew, 
and a carrack could be built bigger still. The number and size of such ships 
developed particularly fast in the last years of the century, particularly in 
Genoa, where carracks of a thousand tons were built. As well as grain, and the 
salt of Ibiza, the Genoese used them for carrying alum from Asia Minor and 
woad from Lombardy, or Toulouse, which they took to Southampton or 
Bruges. Unlike galleys, which needed to put in at very frequent intervals to 
revictual for their enormous crews, carracks could sail for huge distances 
widiout coming into port. Genoese alum boats frequently stopped only once, 
even on such a long journey as that from Phocaea to Southampton or Bruges. 
It is little wonder that freight rates for bulk cargoes dropped in the course of 
the century, despite a sharp rise in seamen’s wages. Early in the century 
Pegolotti recorded in his notebook that carriage to the north added some 24 
per cent to the purchase cost of alum, and 30 per cent to the cost of woad, 
whilst, at its end, Francesco Datini, the best-documented businessman of the 
Middle Ages, 45 only paid 8 per cent of the cost of either for carriage. 

45 See below pp. 196—7. 

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1 86 


Around 1350 die Venetians extended dieir regulation of galleys to round 
ships as well, which they also organised into regulated convoys, those to 
Alexandria in 1346 and those to Beirut in 1366. Unlike the galleys, however, the 
control of cocche did not progress from official regulation to state-ownership. 
The regulated convoys of cocche that they sent annually to Crete and twice yearly 
to Syria were known from the principal commodities that they brought back, 
wine and cotton, as the ‘muda vendemian’ and the ‘muda gotonorum’. 46 The 
‘Syrian’ ships could also, of course, pick up other goods, like sugar in Cyprus, 
on the way back. The carriage of Jerusalem-bound pilgrims to Jaffa, which the 
Venetians had earlier shared with the Pisans and Genoese, also became a 
Venetian monopoly at the end of the century. At least two, and sometimes 
many more, specially appointed pilgrim ships set out each year from Venice. In 
1384, seven galleys and one cocca transported 600 pilgrims to the Holy Land. 47 

Of die three great maritime powers of thirteenth-century Italy, Pisa had 
been eliminated by Genoa at the battle off La Meloria in 1 284 at which Genoa 
had utterly defeated its arch-rival in the western Mediterranean. The harbour 
chains of Pisa had been carried off to Genoa as a symbol of victory. In prac- 
tical terms, it enabled Genoa to take over Pisa’s role as the principal shipper for 
the rapidly growing economies of Tuscany. Pisans remained active as traders, 
but not as shippers. Pisan merchants were most active at Constantinople and 
in Tunis, and in die first half of the century could still rival the Genoese and 
Venetians in Cyprus and Lesser Armenia. They principally used Genoese ship- 
ping, although they also sent goods in Venetian and Catalan boats as well. The 
Florentines, although so important as a trading nation in the fourteenth 
century had no shipping of dieir own beyond river boats on the Arno. Their 
goods were normally carried in Genoese ships. 48 

The Genoese repeatedly tried to eliminate the Venetians as they had done 
the Pisans, and a sequence of major wars between die two great maritime 
powers brought Mediterranean trade to a standstill for years on end. No 
Venetian galley fleets were sent out during the third war with Genoa from 1350 
to 1355, and in the fourth war, from 1378 to 1381, only to Alexandria. In this 
war the Genoese very nearly succeeded in destroying the Venetians as they had 
done the Pisans, and it was only at the last minute that the tables were turned, 
and the Venetians snatched victory from their aggressive rivals at Chioggia, at 
the entry to the Venetian lagoon itself. Far from sacking Venice, the Genoese 
found themselves severely restricted in their own trade instead. Between 1379 
and 1401 die customs accounts for seaborne trade from Genoa suggest that it 
dropped in value from around 2 million gold florins to below 800,000 florins. 49 

46 Doumerc (1991), pp. 357-95. 47 Ibid., p. 383. 48 Balard (1991), pp. 1— 16. 

49 Felloni (19S4), pp. 1 5 3—77; Day (1963). 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 1 87 

The general indications are that Venetian trade correspondingly gained. After 
tire battle of Chioggia, the Venetian state was in a strong position to insist that 
certain of the most valuable commodities, such as spices, be only carried in its 
armed ‘great galleys’, a necessary provision to keep tire service running. By 
then the import of spices into Europe was very largely restricted to Venetian 
purchasers in Alexandria. 

Although there were numerous other trading ports in the Mediterranean the 
only one remotely in the same league as Genoa and Venice was Barcelona, the 
principal city of Catalonia. Catalan shipping, including that of Majorca 
(Mallorca) and Valencia, was not only enormously important in the western 
Mediterranean, but also outside it. 50 Professor Melis found that die combined 
merchant tieets that he could discover for Barcelona, Valencia and Majorca 
were only exceeded in numbers by the combined merchant fleets of Genoa, 
Savona and other Ligurian ports, for although Genoa had lost its share of the 
spice trade after Chioggia, it still maintained die largest merchant fleet. He dis- 
covered records of 921 Ligurian boats and 875 Catalan boats in the period 
1383-1411. However, the Catalan boats were markedly smaller, mosdy less 
than half the size of their Genoese counterparts. The most common size was 
only 300 hotti (around 200 tons). He found none of the new large thousand- 
ton carracks in Catalan service. Catalan shipping was certainly not confined to 
the Mediterranean, for he found nearly fifty Catalan boats drat had sailed to 
the North Sea in this period. He also found rather more northern Spanish 
boats that had done so. These were the boats of the Biscay coast that were car- 
riers of Castilian wool, iron and soap, and of Gascon wine to the Low 
Countries and to England. These northern Spanish boats were built on the 
same sort of scale as diose from Catalonia and did nothing to rival the 
Genoese bulk carriers. 51 

The century opened towards the end of a period of enormous investment 
in the infrastructure of overland trade, the needs of river and road transport 
often being catered for at the same time, since they were used so much in 
conjunction, with frequent changes between the two. Rivers were dredged and 
canalised; new canals constructed; new bridges were built in enormous 
numbers to replace ferries, frequently at the same time as navigation on the 
river beneath was improved and new quays constructed. Roads, too, were 
widened and improved and new passes through mountains were opened, with 
new roads constructed to lead to them. The first half of the century saw the 
continuation of these improvements, but at a slower pace. 

The county of Flanders and its cities were in the forefront of canal build- 
ing, but even more than roads, canals demanded continuous and expensive 

50 Carrere (1967) and Abulafia (1994). 51 Melis (1984a). 

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1 88 


maintenance, particularly dredging and the upkeep of retaining dikes. The 
costs generally gready exceeded the revenues from tolls, and even cities of 
the stature of Bruges and Ghent felt the strain of keeping up their canals. The 
canal cut from the Elbe to Liibeck was even larger than any of the Flemish 
waterways, and the arrival of the first boats in Liibeck in 1398, after eightyears 
of work, was greeted with great public rejoicing and festivity. 

The overall impression is that between the great commercial revival of the 
thirteenth century and the end of the Middle Ages the transport of goods 
became both quicker and cheaper and, with flagrant exceptions, even safer. 
The ubiquitous trains of pack horses and mules, often still accompanied by the 
owners of the goods that they were carrying, gave place at varying dates in 
many parts of Europe, including even some of the mountainous areas, to two- 
wheeled and then four-wheeled wagons run by professional carriers organised 
from a network of inns that provided warehousing and packing facilities. 
Underlying this change was a revolutionary improvement in the width and 
surface of roads and tire building of countless bridges. As the ‘road revolution’ 
gathered momentum, the provision of good roads, fit for primitive coaches as 
well as wagons, became more and more an object of public policy, particularly 
in places with commercial interests. Expenditure on the improvement and 
maintenance of roads could, at least in part, be defrayed by the tolls paid by 
users who could, because of the improvements, carry more goods, more 
cheaply. As costs dropped, by volume and weight, the range of goods worth 
carrying over any specified distance increased. Cheaper textiles, as well as the 
dearer luxury fabrics, became worth carrying over long distances. The ability 
to carry goods economically over longer distances in its turn encouraged 
greater specialisation, as well as increasing the volume of trade in many areas 
of Europe. 

In northern and central Italy innumerable bridges were built across rivers 
and streams, embankments carrying new roads were thrown up in low-lying 
lands, main roads were widened and either gravelled or paved. The area in 
which wheeled transport could operate was vastly enlarged, even in a region so 
broken up by hills, and tire speed and ease of transport by pack animals was 
also greatly increased. All the city states of northern and central Italy picked 
out for special attention a limited number of routes which were important to 
them. Even the small commune of Tivoli had a via Maior which it paved, or 
rather re -paved, for their via silicata et lapidea had been the Roman via Tiburtina. 

At Florence two additional strade maestre were added to the ten main roads 
for which tire state had already taken responsibility by 1300. Along the strade 
maestrehrge bridges, mostly in stone, crossed the major tributaries of the Arno, 
like the Elsa, Pesa, Sieve and Bisenzio. They were supplemented by numerous 
ponticelli over tiny streams, perhaps half of them built of wood. Some seventy 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 


bridges of various sizes were built for the commune between 1280 and 1380. 
By 1380 many of the wooden bridges from the beginning of the century had 
been replaced by stone ones. 52 Pack animals could certainly travel much faster 
on the improved roads, but only a minority of the new Florentine roads could 
be improved enough to be fit for wheeled vehicles, like the new road from 
Florence to Pisa along die south bank of the Arno. When the new stone bridge 
across die Elsa was finally finished in 1347, it became possible at last to take 
goods by cart all the way to Pisa. 

With a different sort of terrain the Pisans were able to create roads fit for 
carts. They threw up embankments to carry their main roads in low-lying areas, 
which they widened up to fifteen feet (4.6m), to allow two of die new large 
carts to pass, and then paved for enormous distances. By 1308 the new paving 
of the via Romea, the ‘coastal’ road southward to Rome, had already advanced 
twenty-five miles from Pisa and was continuing, having already been widened 
for eighty-five miles. It was astonishing to consider paving such an enormous 
distance when the paving of the main streets inside cities was relatively novel 
and many city streets were as yet unpaved. 

Many roads leading to Alpine passes were diemselves improved quite 
considerably. That on the south side of the Brenner pass for example was 
improved in 13 14 by a private citizen of Bolzano who paid for improvements 
that enabled the old ridge road north of the city to be brought down into the 
valley of the Isarco. These improvements were partially competitive. After the 
opening of the Saint-Gotthard in the thirteenth century, a great deal of traffic 
left the Septimer pass route, which had earlier been the principal pass through 
the central Alps, connecting Milan and die Rhineland. The route on the north 
side of the Septimer pass came down into die upper Rhine valley at Chur, 
which suffered from the loss of traffic, so its bishop had the very top of the 
pass paved in an unsuccessful attempt to lure some of die lost traffic back. 

When a group of merchants had an interest in a particular route they were 
not merely content to let the local authorities get on with its maintenance, or 
not, as the case might be. They took positive measures to see that something 
was done. This was relatively easy if die relevant authority was their own 
government. Effective pressure for maintenance or improvement was more 
problematic and demanded patient negotiation when another government was 
involved. The merchants of Milan had a strong interest in the upkeep of the 
Simplon pass road. They sent syndics at intervals to negotiate with the bishop 
of Sion who was overlord of the Valais, die upper Rhone valley, from below 
Martigny to Simplon. The earliest negotiations, for which records survive, had 
been in 1271— 3 and 1291. Further negotiations took place in 1321, 1336 and 

52 La Ronciere (1976); compressed and slighdy revised (1982). 

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1351 at least. What the syndicates could offer the bishop and his steward was 
money, both lump sum payments and consent to increased dues of various 

At its most dramatic and remote the trade of west Europeans with the rest 
of the world was at its widest extent in the early fourteenth century, when there 
were regular groups of Genoese and Venetian merchants, together with some 
Catalans, Provencals, Pisans and Florentines, not only in the cities of die 
Maghreb from Morocco to Tunis, in the ports of Egypt, Syria and Armenia, 
in the Byzantine empire and the lands of its Turkish opponents, and in ports 
all round the Black Sea from die mouth of the Danube to Caffa in the Crimea, 
from Tana on the sea of Azov to Trebizond, and even inland in Tabriz in the 
dominions of die Mongol Ilkhans of Persia. Aldiough west Europeans had 
never managed to penetrate beyond the ports of the Maghreb, sporadic adven- 
turers-cum-merchants did take the roads across Asia to China in search of 
silks, and to Samarkand and India in search of precious stones, and even very 
occasionally to the spice islands of the Indonesian archipelago. Some 
Europeans went to die Persian Gulf to the pearl fisheries there and on by sea 
to those of Sri Lanka and to the pepper-growing coast of south India. These 
most distant contacts were a consequence of the Mongol unification of much 
of Asia in die mid-thirteenth century. So long as Mongol rule remained essen- 
tially undisturbed and tolerant, it was possible for western merchants to enter 
and cross the Mongol khanates to reach China and India. Although Asian trade 
was important to some Europeans, and some Asian commodities were widely 
diffused in Europe, it is sobering to realise that Europe was only of minor 
importance in the whole pattern of Eurasian trade. 53 Europe after all had not 
much to offer to the rest of the world, apart from fine linen, and some wool- 
lens. In the first half of the fourteenth century the balance was made up by 
vast shipments of silver. 


The Mongol ‘peace’, however, came to an end in die 1330s and 1340s. There 
was a successful Chinese rising against their Mongol overlords, and those 
Europeans who were in China were massacred on account of their association 
with the Mongols. The other khanates broke up in disorder, and the rulers of 
the fragments of the Persian khanate also became Muslim and intolerant of 
Christians. 54 The Venetian and Genoese enclaves in Tabriz were deserted and 

53 Abu-Lughod ( 1989 ). 

54 The rulers of Genoa vainly attempted to bargain and put pressure on them by forbidding their mer- 
chants to go to India across Persia! 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 


fell into ruin. Furthermore die Mamluk rulers of Egypt and Syria conquered 
Armenia and closed that doorway to Asia. 

Breaking direct trading links did not mean a total break in trade, although it 
was diminished. In the second half of the century western merchants still went 
on trading to Caffa and Tana, Trebizond and Brusa, Beirut and Alexandria, but 
they were no longer able to penetrate beyond these points. What Venetians 
were able to obtain in Beirut were essentially Syrian goods, cotton, and soda 
ash for the manufacture of glass and soap. It did not substitute for Lajazzo, 
since it was not a port for long-distance trade. The loss of die Armenian 
gateway and the Italian merchant settlements in Tabriz meant that a very high 
proportion of trade in Indian, Indonesian and Chinese goods passed through 
Alexandria, where, around 1400, Venetian merchants could only buy spices, 
precious stones, pearls and silks from Egyptians, who bought them from Arab 
and Gujerati traders, who in turn bought them from various places in the 
western Indian Ocean, or acquired them from Chinese shippers who had 
bought diem yet farther afield. Increasing the number of links in the com- 
mercial chain did not necessarily greatly increase prices, but it gave more 
opportunities for prices to be increased, and not only by merchants. When the 
Mamluk rulers of Egypt succumbed to die temptation to increase taxes, the 
western response was to accelerate the existing process of substitution wher- 
ever possible. Silks, tapestries and carpets could all be made in Europe, and 
animal-bone substitutes for ivory were even produced at the end of the 
century. Mulberry trees and sugar cane could be cultivated in Europe or on 
European-controlled islands like Cyprus, so that less raw silk and sugar need 
be imported from Asia Minor or Egypt. However, Syrian cotton and soda ash 
were still needed, and there were no substitutes for the culinary and medicinal 
spices of India, China and Indonesia, and no alternative to paying the prices 
demanded at Alexandria. In the second half of the century Europeans were 
consequently still sending out large shipments of precious metal, but, from the 
1350s onwards, more often of gold than silver. 55 

Trade with Asia, as within Europe, also shrank because of the decline in 
demand for luxuries from wealthy customers in Europe, among die principal 
causes of which were the great increase in war and disorder, with die conse- 
quent debasements and expenditure on arms, taxation and forced loans, and 
die reduction in population which caused a drop in rents, whilst die conse- 
quent rise in wages provoked increases in prices for manufactures. 

From the late 1330s onwards prolonged wars broke out in a number of 
places. The ambitions of Philip VI of France, the della Scala of Verona and 
die Visconti of Milan, all provoked protracted conflict, as did attempts by 

55 Spufford (1988), pp. 283-6, 353-4. 

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popes to fight their way back to Rome, and civil wars in southern Italy and 
Castile. War had a number of deleterious effects on trade. Some were direct, 
but many indirect. War itself was very harmful in a limited number of areas, 
such as Gascony and the surrounding areas of south-western France, where 
the deliberately destructive chevauchees of the Anglo-Gascon armies and the 
French responses devastated the region’s extensive vineyards. Wine exports 
from Bordeaux plummeted in consequence. 56 Merchants, and growers else- 
where, adapted flexibly. French consumers were offered more Loire wines, 
‘Flemish’ consumers were offered more Rhine wines and more beer in place of 
claret, English consumers were offered Andalusian and Portuguese wines 

An immediate by-product of wars waged with indentured companies was 
the disorder drat resulted from peace and the cessation of payments to those 
previously paid under such indentures or condotte. They naturally preyed on 
goods in transit. The ravages of unemployed condottiere became one of tire pre- 
occupations of governments in many parts of Europe, which took various 
measures to ensure the safety of goods in transit. The provision of guards, for 
example, was a concern of a number of German states, but all such escorts 
had to be paid for, and increased the costs of land transport appreciably. The 
Florentine state went further and founded a number of fortified settlements 
on its principal roads, notably on tire important route from Bologna along 
which the grain came which was so necessary for feeding the city. A great deal 
of attention was given to the protection of this route through tire wild heart 
of the Appenines, for its users were constantly threatened with violence. A 
new road was constructed across the Giogo pass, with fortified townships at 
Scarperia and Firenzuola. By 1400 this road had become the principal alterna- 
tive to the Cisa route as tire means of getting from any of the Alpine passes to 
Rome. The advantage of the new road was not speed, since the terrain was 
much the same as the old Futa pass road, but comparative safety, for the garri- 
sons were expected to provide some measure of protection to merchants on 
the road, as did the knights of Altopascio, where the old via Francigena passed 
through die depths of the forest of the Cerbaia. 

Merchants took their own means of spreading risk. Insurance evolved and 
became much more common. Much insurance was maritime insurance, 
directed against storm and natural hazards, but there was also an element of 
insurance against piracy. As a consequence goods transported in the heavily 
armed galleys of Venice attracted much lower insurance premiums. Francesco 
Datini insisted that all his companies insure all goods in transit. In addition, his 
Pisan company participated in syndicates insuring goods setting out from 

56 Boutruche (1947); Craeybeckx (1958); James (1971). 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 1 9 3 

Porto Pisano, the outport of Pisa. Insurance could also be obtained for goods 
being transported by land, where the principal risk was brigandage. 

The main indirect effect of war was through taxation. The method of taxa- 
tion varied from place to place, and so did the consequent effects on trade. In 
England one of the principal means of funding tire Hundred Years War was 
to increase customs duties on wool exports, and the increased rates, levied per 
sack rather than ad valorem , were maintained for a sufficiently long period that 
they priced die cheaper English wools out of the international market. Direct 
taxation, when die nobility and upper clergy were not exempted from it, 
affected their ability to consume luxuries quite considerably. 

The same effect was produced in Italian city-states by ever-repeated forced 
loans. Well-to-do Florentines not only complained bitterly of their impover- 
ishment from such loans, which could be exacted every month in times of 
emergency, but also rejoiced in the first years of the fifteenth century at their 
recovery of prosperity after so long a time. It is easy to discount such com- 
plaints, but not die rejoicing. In die first half of the fourteendi century forced 
loans for less frequent wars were generally repaid in a few years, when peace 
returned, and interest was scrupulously paid. In the second half of the century 
one war loan was heaped upon another before there was any chance of repay- 
ment, and even the payment of interest became erratic. When this happened 
die resale value of shares in the communal debt fell to such low levels that the 
compulsory contributors felt that diey had effectively been taxed. After the 
“War of Chioggia’, interest payments were suspended and a hundred ducats of 
forced loan to the Venetian state could only be resold for eighteen ducats. 57 

A similar or even more violent effect on the disposable incomes of the 
wealthy was achieved when governments debased the coinage rather than 
imposing taxation. 58 This happened in France in the 1340s and 1350s. The 
effect was dramatically to reduce the purchasing power of all those who lived 
on incomes fixed in money of account, such as nearly all rent-receiving land- 
owners. In 1360 the nobility insisted on a return to sound money, even if it 
meant the imposition of large direct taxes which they too had to pay. 59 In 
Castile after similar debasements in the civil war of the 1350s and 1360s, the 
return to sound money in 1371 lasted only to die next wave of debasements 
during the wars of the 1380s. This was ruinous for Castilian landowners, and 
for the ordinary revenues of the crown itself, as the principal landowner in the 
country. The consequent changes in exchange rates made imports more 
expensive, to die disadvantage of landowning consumers of imported luxu- 
ries, but diey also made exports cheaper. Since Castile was the other great 

57 Lane (1973), p. 196. 58 Spufford (1988), pp. 289-318. 59 Cazelles (1976), pp. 293-31 1. 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 

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Map 5 Europe^ trade ? c. 1400 

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exporter of high-grade wools in medieval Europe, debasement made Castilian 
wool cheaper just when customs were making English wool dearer, so by the 
end of the century Castilian wool had begun to replace English in significant 
quantities in the woollen cloth industries of tire southern Netherlands. 

Landowners also had to divert expenditure into arms. The armourers of 
Milan and Brescia did particularly well out of periods of disorder. They could 
provide everything from mass-produced ready-made armour by the thousand 
pieces for armies of foot-soldiers, to the most expensive hand-engraved, 
made-to-measure suits for princes and great noblemen. At the end of the 
century, when the earl of Derby, later Henry IV of England, ordered armour 
from Milan, four armourers came with it to give him a fitting, before finishing 
it and hardening it. 

The costs of wars also affected the international financial community. 
Import-export houses were often forced to lend to the governments of states 
where they had branches. They were generally offered good rates of interest 
and the loans were frequently secured on particular sources of revenue. If all 
went well die merchant houses concerned made a handsome profit and 
became more entrenched in business dealings within the host country. 
Unfortunately wars generally lasted longer and were more expensive than 
anticipated, so that it became impossible to repay the lenders as arranged. 
From time to time even some of the largest Italian business houses collapsed. 
In 1326, for example, die Scali of Florence collapsed, after 120 years of exis- 
tence, and Villani commented that it was a worse blow to the city than the 
defeat at Altopascio at the hands of the Lucchese. These earlier bankruptcies 
were as nothing compared with those of the 1340s that carried away the four 
largest firms in Europe, all Florentine, who suffered from bodi exceedingly 
high rates of forced loans levied at home, and over-lending to rulers abroad. 
These four major bankruptcies triggered others, for these large companies had 
raised much of the money diey lent to rulers by borrowing from odiers on the 
strength of their reputations. Over 350 firms failed in Florence by 1346. 

The 1 3 40s wave of bankruptcies made for an immense, if temporary, 
shrinkage in ordinary commercial credit. No Tuscan firm was left of an ade- 
quate size to handle the business of transmitting money to and from Avignon 
for the papacy. The pope, for the first time in a century, used a non-Tuscan firm 
of bankers, the Lombard firm of Malabayla from Asti. The lesson of ‘not 
lending to rulers’ was not easy to learn, for rulers could make it very difficult 
not to lend to them, by threats of preventing trading activities. A different 
lesson, however, could be learned: ‘not to operate as one single international 
company’. Instead, post-crash-multinationals like the Alberti took the form of 
groups of companies, so that trouble in one country only affected the trading 
company in drat country and did not bring down the whole group. The Datini 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 

! 97 

group of companies at the end of the century therefore consisted of separate 
import-export houses in Avignon, Florence, Genoa, Pisa and Barcelona (with 
branches in Valencia and Majorca), two woollen-cloth manufacturing busi- 
nesses in Datini’s home town of Prato, a dyeworks in Prato and an inde- 
pendent banking business in Florence. Datini began his business career in 
Avignon, returned to Prato and ended up running his group of companies 
from a holding company in Florence. His commercial activities were primarily 
concerned with western Mediterranean trade, and focused on the manufacture 
and sale of cloth woven from Spanish wool, but his activities stretched to wool 
purchases in die English Cotswolds in one direction and to Tana and Egypt in 
the other. His group of companies, as well as banking and insurance, dealt in 
virtually every sort of commodity, from armour to cheap paintings. Although 
the unitary form of the single giant company had given way to a group struc- 
ture he managed to keep an exceptionally firm grip on all the enterprises by 
sending out a hail of instructions to each of them, and demanding frequent 
reports from them. Several letters a week survive from some of the men who 
ran the individual companies. 60 This group structure, evolved in the second 
half of the fourteenth century, remained one of the key models for large inter- 
national enterprises for centuries, from the Medici to the Warburgs. 

The 1 340s bankruptcies of these great firms caused the collapse of the 
international courier services that they seem to have been large enough to run 
for themselves. Seventeen of the surviving Florentine firms banded together 
for the running of regular common courier services. Couriers thereafter rode 
out weekly from Florence and Pisa to and from Barcelona, and on two routes 
to and from Bruges, by way of Paris and by way of Milan and Cologne, and 
carried correspondence for all business houses. The Lucchese ran a similar 
service to Bruges, and die Genoese ran services to both Bruges and Barcelona, 
die latter sometimes going on to Seville. The Catalans ran couriers from 
Barcelona to Bruges and to Pisa and Florence, whilst die Lombard cities also 
had a service to Barcelona. Besides these common courier services, private 
couriers linked in Venice, Avignon, Rome, Naples and London. The amount 
of business post diat they carried was prodigious. On some routes it was pos- 
sible to send letters by different couriers several times a week. Of the letters 
sent between different companies of die Datini group, no fewer than 320,000 
survive. 61 

Another effect of diese bankruptcies was to limit the domination of interna- 
tional business by Italians. Italians had partially been enabled to break into the 
markets of northern Europe in die diirteenth century by die abundance of 
cheap credit available to diem which permitted them to extend credit from buyer 

60 Melis (1962); Origo (1957). 61 Melis (1973). 

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to seller by laying out money in advance, for such tilings as wool that had not yet 
been grown. Such advance purchases had overturned the traditional extension 
of credit from seller to buyer and had cut out rival merchants with less extensive 
access to more highly priced credit. After the bankruptcies of tire 1340s, tire 
shrinkage in Italian credit meant a revival in tire tradition of credit from seller to 
buyer and gave rival merchants a fresh opportunity to enter international trade. 
A much higher proportion of die wool exported from England was dealt widi 
by native English merchants in die last quarter of die century than die first. The 
merchants of die Staple came to be die dominant group in England’s wool 
exports, radier than Italians. London and Bristol merchants were die most 
noticeable amongst diose Englishmen who traded overseas. The English crown 
now pressed diem, rather than Italians, to provide it with loans. Native 
Englishmen like William de la Pole of Hull led consortia of merchants lending 
money to the king. 62 Some, like de la Pole, added to dieir fortunes from royal 
finance. Odiers failed as catastrophically as dieir Italian predecessors. In a similar 
way there was a growth in other groups of local traders in international trade in 
the Adantic. Portuguese, nordiern Castilian merchants, who formed colonies in 
Bruges and Soudiampton, Bretons and Normans, all joined the English in taking 
back trade from Italians, as did men from die ports near Bruges like 
Middelburg. 63 In die interior of Europe die principal gainers were die merchants 
of south German cities who by 1400 were building on a long-established tradi- 
tion of trading across die Alps to develop multi-branched groups of companies 
on Italian models, and, with interest rates beginning to drop there, to accumu- 
late capital that could be invested in mining or in the manufacture of import sub- 
stitutes, just as north Italians themselves had earlier done. 64 

The shrinkage of international credit was only one aspect of an overall 
decline in die money supply. There was a general contraction in the availabil- 
ity of local banking services, despite the simplification of mediods of payment 
by the replacement of personal oral requests to transfer funds from one 
account to another by written cheques. The number of money-changer 
bankers simply began to decline. However die decline had not proceeded very 
far by the end of the century. It could be reckoned that one in ten of adult 
males still had bank accounts in Bruges in 1400. 65 Neverdieless some cities, like 
Bois-le-Duc and Louvain in Brabant were already taking action to provide 
municipal money-changing, although not other banking services, because of 
the decline in numbers of money-changers. 66 

There was also a decline in the quantity of metallic currency itself, which 

62 Carus-Wilson and Coleman (1963); Lloyd (1977); Fryde (1988), pp. 5 3-86, 181-200. 

63 Childs (1978); Touchard (1967); Mollat (1952); Nicholas (1992). 64 Von Stromer (1970). 

65 Lopez (1973), pp. 335—41, extrapolating from de Roover (1948). 

66 Van der Wee (1963), n, pp. 358-60. 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 1 99 

exacerbated, if it did not necessarily cause, the decline in credit. The whole of 
European trade with Asia had been expanded on the basis that Europeans had 
abundant supplies of silver to send to balance out the excess value of the 
goods brought in from the Levant and beyond over those sent out. 67 When 
new and larger deposits of silver were being discovered within Europe at inter- 
vals, to replace those that had been worked out, there was no problem. 
However, there was no major new discovery of silver for over a century after 
that at Kutna Hora (Kiittenberg) in 1300. Production was at its greatest in the 
first half of the fourteenth century. Enough ore was then mined to produce 
perhaps as much as twenty tons of coinable silver a year, of which over six tons 
was actually minted. However, production from the mines there gradually sank 
throughout the second half of tire century, although it did not cease until early 
in tire next. The other major European source of silver around 1300 had been 
the mines in Sardinia at Iglesias (Villa di Chiesa), but production there 
dwindled abruptly in the 1340s. Early fourteenth-century merchants’ note- 
books, like that of Pegolotti, give glimpses of bodi Kutna Hora and Iglesias 
silver on its way out of Europe. As less and less silver was mined the effect of 
die continued export of silver to the Levant and beyond was to diminish the 
supply of silver available for circulation within Europe itself. By the 1390s a 
lack of silver coin afflicted Europe, 68 the first wave of the late medieval ‘bullion 
famine’. Even in a country like England, which had a strongly favourable com- 
mercial balance because of its wool exports, die quantity of silver coin circu- 
lating by 1400 was around a tenth of that available a century earlier. However, 
silver coin did not make up the whole currency in either 1300 or in 1400. In 
1300 silver ingots, bars weighing a mark, were still being used for large pay- 
ments in northern Europe, and particularly for international transactions, 
whilst in 1400 there was a considerable currency of gold coins (as there already 
had been in parts of southern Europe in 1300). The discovery, mining and 
minting of gold at Kremnica in Slovakia in the 13 20s made gold currency avail- 
able on a scale very different from the quantities previously available in soudi- 
ern Europe from West African sources. Large payments for war purposes to 
north-western Europe from the late 1330s spearheaded the use of gold as cur- 
rency outside the Mediterranean littoral. The use of gold coins to a certain 
extent mitigated the increasing dearth of silver, and it replaced silver in pay- 
ments to the east, so that gold mining came to bear die burden of the imbal- 
ance of payments with the Levant. Gold not only replaced the use of bars of 
silver, and barrels of silver coins, for international payments, but was increas- 
ingly used for much smaller payments also. In some parts of Europe, peasants 
were paid in gold for their produce, and they in turn sometimes paid their rent 

67 Ashtor (1971) and (1983). 68 SpufFord (1988), ch. 1 and Day (1978), pp. 1—54, reprinted (1987). 

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in gold. Some craftsmen, like weavers, were paid in gold for their work by the 
end of the century. 69 All these were relatively ‘lumpy’ payments. What gold 
coins could not be used for were day wages, and the ordinary daily expendi- 
tures of urban life. 

The most evident difference between die second and the first half of the 
century was the recrudescence of bubonic plague in 1348 after several cen- 
turies. The effects of repeated waves of plague in reducing populations from 
the high levels of the earlier part of the century are well known. Although so 
many of the deaths from plague took place in towns and cities, the overall 
effect was to reduce the population in the countryside, for cities, particularly 
capital cities, drew in quantities of immigrants from die country to take die 
places of those who had died. The immediate economic effects of plague were 
first felt in die cities. Urban rents fell soonest and furthest, whilst urban wages 
rose soonest and most. In Florence and Paris the purchasing power of wages 
more or less tripled within a year of the very first wave of plague, and even in 
the small towns of southern England the day wages of building craftsmen 
doubled. The economic effects of population changes were very uneven. In 
the English or Flemish countrysides, landlords could find fresh tenants for 
vacated holdings until die 1370s, after the third wave of plague, and diere was 
litde abandonment of land even in the last quarter of the century. 70 

Demographic factors in the diminution in agricultural production were 
compounded by climatic ones. It appears that European climate was gradually 
becoming colder, and perhaps wetter, in the course of the century. This not 
only had the effect of producing more ‘bad harvests’, but of driving down 
yields in general, and changing what it was suitable to grow in particular places. 
The beer/wine line, for example, moved southwards. The growing of vines, 
for making cheap local wines, came to an end in southern England and what 
is now Belgium, and this helped the process whereby the inhabitants of the 
densely populated southern Netherlands increasingly became beer rather than 
wine drinkers. 

Demographic effects were also compounded by disorder. In Gascony or 
Tuscany, rural holdings were deserted much sooner than in England and 
Flanders, because war and disorder made the safety of town walls even more 
appealing, and agricultural production dropped much faster. As a consequence 
urban populations, even when they were greatly reduced, as in the case of 
Florence, still had to rely heavily on grain imported over long distances, and 
were still vulnerable to famines. 71 However, an immediate effect of rising real 

69 La Ronciere (1976). 

70 The first arrival of the plague along routes of trade from Asia is graphically described by Matteo 

Villani, Cronica, ed. Porta, Bk i, ch. 2; cf. above pp. 13 1—3. 

71 La Ronciere (1976); Hunt (1994) suggests that it was not so. 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 


wages in cities and of falling urban rents was to remove a large body of people, 
including skilled craftsmen, from near starvation. Instead such men could, 
from the 1350s, afford more than a basic minimum diet. This meant the 
possibility of buying what had been semi-luxuries, particularly meat, but also 
dairy products, and at the same time there was a corresponding drop in the 
demand for grains, more especially the cheaper grains like rye, for part of the 
general improvement in living standards was the possibility to exercise a 
preference for wheaten bread. 

Even slight changes in urban population and diet could have a dispropor- 
tionate effect at long distances. The overall decline in town populations in the 
Calais-Cologne urban belt was translated into a much larger drop in the 
demand for grain, particularly of rye, from the Baltic area, Brandenburg, 
Pomerania, Poland and Prussia. The figures for the minimum value of goods 
going in and out of the harbour in Liibeck, by general agreement the most 
important Hanseatic trading city, do not start until 1368, and there are then 
only three further figures available for the fourteenth century, from die period 
1 3 79-84. 72 With such limited evidence it is necessary to look at each figure very 
carefully to determine whedier it may have been typical or atypical. There was 
a remarkable consistency of the value of trade from 1379 to 1384 (between 

62.000 and 66,000 marks weight of fine silver). However, in 1368 the value of 
trade had been nearly two and a half times as much as it was a decade later (over 

1 50.000 marks weight of fine silver). It does not seem that 1368 was a freak 
year. 7j These years span the diird visitation of bubonic plague, and also the 
aftermath of it, in which the cumulative depopulating effects of three waves 
of plague began to bite. It would therefore be reasonable to anticipate a very 
considerable real shrinkage in Liibeck’s seaborne trade between 1368 and 1379. 
Not only did Hanseatic trade suffer, but mammoth depopulation also took 
place in these grain-growing areas. Previously cultivated land returned to scrub, 
and the local market structure was disrupted. 74 It was the first step in the retreat 
from the large number of markets existing at die beginning of the century. 
Although the reduction in rural populations was well advanced by 1400, land- 
lords somehow managed to keep something going in most places, and die ulti- 
mate effect of depopulation, the total disappearance of settlements, was 
largely delayed until the fifteenth century. 

72 Dollinger (1964), pp. 431—2; Sprandel (1975), pp. 97—123; Hammel-Kiesow (1993), pp. 77—94. 
Hammel gives his figures in Liibeck marks, as in the sources themselves, and then converts them 
into marks weight of fine silver to make comparisons over time. 

73 Hammel has disproved the suggestion that the larger figures only reflect the reopening of the Sound 
after a closure, and no other proposed explanation has yet been put forward why Liibeck’s sea-borne 
trade should have been specially inflated in that year. 

74 In the Ucker Mark half the peasant farms were already deserted in 1375: Carsten (1954), p. 100. 

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The other side of the change in diet was the increasing demand for meat. 
Some areas of Europe took up the opportunity of stock raising on a large 
scale. Meat, unlike grain, was cheap to transport, since beasts were driven to 
their destinations before being killed. Some of tire growing herds of cattle on 
the Hungarian plains were driven round the eastern Alps to be refattened after 
their journey on north-east Italian marshlands, and only then driven into north 
Italian cities for butchering. Other Hungarian cattle were driven along the 
south bank of the Danube into south Germany to be eaten in the cities there. 
Danish cattle, many sold onwards at Hamburg, where they were taken across 
the Elbe, were driven to the wetlands along die lower Rhine, where they were 
refattened for the cities immediately to the south. Over slightly shorter dis- 
tances, cattle rearing increased in the west midlands of England to meet 
London’s growing appetite for meat, and in western France for Paris. The grain 
trade diminished, but die meat trade began a hundred years of growdi. 

Improved living standards of large numbers of people were also retiected 
in clothing. There was a greater demand for the cheaper, lighter woollen clodis, 
which naturally resulted in die expansion in the production of cheaper cloths. 
Lombardy increased its production of them, as did many of the small towns 
of eastern Flanders and northern Brabant. The manufacturers’ needs for raw 
materials consequently increased the demand for imported Castilian and 
Apulian wool, which in its turn promoted the growth of transhumant sheep 
docks on both the central Castilian plateau and the mountains of Apulia. 

The demand for cheap cottons also grew considerably, initially for those 
made in Lombardy from Syrian cotton imported through Venice. The demand 
for linen, from Lombardy and Flanders, also increased, but since pure linen 
was rather expensive, die greatest growdi was in the demand for fustian, the 
mixed linen-cotton fabric, and in the last years of die fourteenth century the 
production of fustian took off in south Germany. By the 1370s merchants 
from Ulm, Augsburg and Nuremberg, who had been carrying back north 
Italian cottons and fustians, were buying raw Syrian cotton in Milan and Venice 
instead. Fustians were soon manufactured more cheaply in south Germany 
itself, undercutting Lombard fustians north of the Alps. The principal centres 
for the production of fustians were Ulm and Augsburg and the small towns 
between, although some fustian was produced elsewhere as at Zurich or 
throughout the broad Swabian dax-growing region. Much of diis fustian was 
either bleached white or dyed black. By 1400, Augsburg and Nuremberg mer- 
chants were taking Ulm fustians to the Frankfurt fairs and Cologne. 75 

Falling rents, urban from the 1350s and rural from the 1370s, benedted the 
tenants, but they were equally bad for landlords. Empty houses and vacant 

75 Von Stromer (i 978); Mazzaoui (1981), esp. pp. 137—44. 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 


lands were even worse, since they produced no income at all. The poorest of 
urban houses were allowed to collapse and the poorest of rural holdings 
reverted to waste. 76 Some measure of die effects of this on landlords may be 
seen from great ecclesiastical estates, which remained much the same over long 
periods of time. The landed income of the abbey of Saint-Denis in the Paris 
basin, for example, dropped to under half between 1340 and 1403. 77 Changes 
in the incomes of individual lay families are virtually impossible to work out, 
because lay estates rarely stayed the same for long, because of straightforward 
sales and purchases of lands, marriages of heiresses, dower and partible inher- 
itance, where it still survived. Nevertheless it is clear that die total rental 
income of lay landlords as a whole dropped like diat of ecclesiastical estates in 
die same region. That of the earls of Stafford dropped from around £3,000 
sterling in 1372 to just under £2,000 sterling in 1400. 78 

Just as falling rents benefited tenants but hurt landlords, so rising real wages 
were as bad for employers as they were good for employees. Since most 
employment was in arable agriculture or in service, the increased cost of wages 
could not be passed on. Only the increased wages of that small percentage 
engaged in manufacture could be passed on, and manufactures increased in 
price. Luxury goods increased most in price since they used proportionately 
more labour; for example, luxury woollens had a higher labour component in 
dieir price than cheaper clodis. The yarn for them was spun with a drop spindle 
rather than a spinning wheel, they were fulled by foot rather than in a fulling 
mill, and they went through more laborious finishing processes, they were 
burled more assiduously, and their nap was teazled and sheared more fre- 
quently. 79 

Between reduced landed incomes, increased war-related commitments and 
die higher prices of manufactured luxuries, the ability of the rich to purchase 
luxuries was eroded, although it is not possible to put precise figures to the 
consequent drop in demand that affected long-distance trade. As a conse- 
quence of the decline in demand, the cloth industry in Florence was patendy 
in a bad way from the 1370s, and so was that in the great cities of the southern 
Nedierlands where large quantities of heavy luxury woollen cloths had also 
been woven from expensive English wool. Brussels, Malines and Louvain, 
which had become increasingly important as textile towns in the first half of 
die century, now went into decline. 80 On the other hand, manufacture of high- 
quality woollen clodis grew in England, using native wools and ‘Flemish’ skills. 

76 See Herlihy (1958) and (1967); and Dyer (1989), for Italian and English examples. 

77 Fourquin (1964). 

78 Rawcliffe (1978), quoted by Dyer (1989), pp. 27—48, in his discussion of the evolution of English 

aristocratic incomes. 

79 For a convenient summary of processes see Munro (1988), pp. 693—71 5 . 80 Van der Wee (1975). 

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English exports of cloths of various sizes and qualities grew from virtually 
none in the middle of the century to the equivalent of 40,000 standard 
customs paying rolls at the end of tire century, 81 but this growth by no means 
compensated for the shrinkage in production elsewhere, neither did the 
increased production of silk fabrics. Historians have postulated a shift in 
fashion to favour silks over woollens. More silk was being woven in north 
Italian cities outside Lucca. However, it is by no means clear if this was to sub- 
stitute for woollens, or for the declining quantities of imported Levantine and 
oriental silks, or even for those hitherto woven in Lucca. Even tire customs 
records from England, the fullest surviving in Europe, do not enable us to 
produce figures for the, possibly growing, demand there for imported silk, 
although specific batches of Italian silks can be found in die accounts at die 
end of the century. 

It seems, and is, a long leap from expensive textiles to slaves, but human 
beings were also a very important luxury ‘commodity’ and were bought and 
sold as such. The trade in slaves was possibly as important as that in silk. It was 
certainly a trade that grew in the second half of the century. The use of domes- 
tic women slaves, although illegal in Latin Christian Europe, had possibly never 
entirely ceased, when agricultural, predominandy male, slavery had died out. 82 
Outside western Europe domestic slavery had continued unabated and was 
encountered by those who traded there, as well as in the Iberian peninsula and 
Crete and Cyprus. Legalised domestic slavery returned to southern Europe in 
the second half of die century. In Florence, for example, it was made legal in 
1363. The rise in wages that accompanied the drop in population may or may 
not have made it cheaper to buy a slave girl rather than hire a free maid-servant, 
but the former was certainly more flexible, and possibly more prestigious. 
Whether from motives of economy and utility, or as articles of luxury, slave 
girls were increasingly ‘consumed’ in wealthy households, and the slave trade 
consequently grew in scale. Since the children that these slave girls frequently 
bore their owners were baptised and free, there was no hereditary group of 
slaves, and fresh ones needed to be bought all the time. The new slave girls 
bought in expensive quantities for south European households were mostly 
Asiatic in origin. At Tana Venetian round ships, as well as grain, loaded up with 
considerable numbers of Asian slave girls for European use, and the Genoese 
similarly found their carracks useful for carrying slaves, along with grain or 
alum from Caffa or Chios. Although it was against the rules to keep fellow 
Christians as slaves, Genoese and Venetians also loaded up on occasion with 
Orthodox Greek and Slav girls. The reduction of Asian children to slavery was 
in part a consequence of the internecine wars which broke out in the steppes, 

81 Catus-Wilson and Coleman (1963), pp. 14-16, 7;— 87, 138-54. 82 Stuard (1995), pp. 3— 28. 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 


although west Europeans salved their consciences with the myth drat their 
parents had deliberately sold them so that they should have a better life in the 
west! The male children captured in the same Asiatic wars hardly ever ended 
up in Europe at all. Instead the boys were purchased by Egyptians for service 
in die Mamluk army. 83 In the same way African children became available for 
purchase on account of wars in West Africa. There is a long history of women 
and girls being marched northwards across the Sahara. Those that survived the 
journey mostly found their way into North African households, and only occa- 
sionally reached Europe. 

Slaves were unique as a ‘commodity’, and, so long as their children were 
born legally free, no substitute for their import existed. In the second half of 
tire century they went on being imported along with precious stones, pearls 
and oriental spices, for which there were likewise no substitutes. Other imports 
from outside Europe diminished or ceased, as internal European production 
of silks, cottons, majolica, glass, paper, tapestry, carpets and white soap took 
over. Since late medieval trade depended so much on consumers’ needs and 
demands, it was the merchant suppliers of consumers’ needs who sponsored 
and frequently controlled the internal European manufacture of goods that 
tliey had been previously supplying from outside Europe. It is no wonder that 
so many of these import-substituting manufactures were concentrated in 
northern Italy as the principal area of commercial leadership. 

It is possible to make some limited comparisons between the scale of trade, 
in the second half of the century, in two of the three principal areas of com- 
mercial development in Europe. Any comparisons between trade in the Baltic 
and in the Mediterranean must start from the figures for the minimum value 
of goods going in and out of tire harbour in Liibeck, by general agreement the 
most important Hanseatic trading city, and similar evidence for the port of 
Genoa. The Genoese evidence is much fuller. From the fourteenth century 
there are customs figures for 1334, and then for forty-six years between 1341 
and 1406. With these figures we have material for a fair north-south compari- 
son. In the 1350s, 1360s and 1380s, the value of trade going in and out of the 
harbour of Genoa generally oscillated around 1,400,000 florins. At the end of 
the 1360s it rose quite sharply, and in 1371 it exceeded 2 million gold florins. In 
1 3 76-7 the value of Genoese seaborne trade was still at this level, but in the 
early 1 3 80s it was below 1 ,700,000 gold florins and had soon resumed the level 
of the 1350s and 1360s. To make valid comparisons with these Genoese figures 
I have converted the Liibeck figures into Italian terms. 84 The figures for 
1 3 79-84 show that the shrunken Liibeck trade in those years was in the region 
of 350,000 gold florins, at a time when Genoese trade was dropping from 

83 Verlinden (195 5—77); Origo (1955), pp. 321—66; Lane (1973), pp. 132—3. 84 Above p. 201. 

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2 million florins to 1,700,000 florins. In other words, the trade through the 
harbour at Genoa was, at this point, shrinking from six times as much as at 
Liibeck to five times as much. For the short period for which it is fair to make 
comparisons, between 1379 and 1384, there is no doubt that trade at Genoa 
was many times greater than that at Liibeck. Before the War of Chioggia, 85 the 
general, non-statistical impression is that trade at Venice was of the same order 
of magnitude as that at Genoa, although possibly slightly smaller. If so, its 
trade too might have been around five times as great as Liibeck’s. For die 
Mediterranean, diere were no other ports as important as Genoa, Venice and 
Barcelona, although Porto Pisano, Marseille, Ragusa and even Ancona and 
Aigues-Mortes were not without importance. For the Baltic, there was no other 
port to rival Liibeck, although places like Danzig, Rostock and Torun cannot 
be ignored. It would probably be an exaggeration, but not a very great one, to 
triple die evidence for Genoa to take account of Venice and Barcelona, and 
then suppose that other ports in each region ranked in proportion, and there- 
fore to suggest drat in die 1370s, Mediterranean trade was perhaps fifteen times 
greater than drat in the Baltic. This is a very wild and risky extrapolation, but 
probably in the right order of magnitude. 

As well as being so much smaller in scale, the techniques of trading were still 
much less developed in the north. While catering for many fewer consumers 
and using much less money and less credit, there was still generally a lack of 
international exchange facilities or local giro banking in northern Europe, of 
insurance syndicates or the possibilities of developing international trading 
and industrial groups. Nevertheless, it must not be thought that die centres of 
business were ever static. Change was as perpetual as individual initiative could 
make it. ‘The ongoing shifting of the locus of economic leadership’ 86 was par- 
ticularly noticeable in the fourteenth century, widiin the central banana-shaped 
urban belt of Europe. 87 At its soudiern end the preponderant weight of com- 
mercial and manufacturing development was shifting northwards from 
Tuscany to Lombardy. The cheap woollen manufacture of Florence and other 
Tuscan cities was declining, that of Lombard cities was increasing. Silk cloth 
production in Lucca was diminishing, that in Venice and Bologna was increas- 
ing. The manufactures of fustians, majolica, paper, soap and glass were all 
developing north of the Appenines, and die production of armour there was 
growing prodigiously too. It fits that the trade of Venice, as the principal 
seaport for the area, was flourishing, whilst that of Genoa, the principal carrier 
of Tuscan goods, was in crisis. It is not surprising diat cities like Milan and 

85 Above pp. 186—7. 

86 The phrase was used in the Festschrift offered to Herman van der Wee to sum up one of the prin- 
cipal themes of his work on the Netherlands: Blockmans in Aerts et al. (1993), pp. 41—58. 

87 Above p. 157. 

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Trade in fourteenth-century Europe 


Venice attracted enough immigrants to maintain, or possibly even slighdy 
increase, their populations, despite the waves of plague. Genoa and Florence 
were not able to do so. Despite immigration the population of Florence more 
than halved between 1340 and 1400. At the extreme southern end of die urban 
belt, cities like Siena and Perugia suffered most of all. A long process of 
deindustrialisation was beginning from die south. 

Whilst Tuscany, particularly soudiern Tuscany, was losing, southern 
Germany, die next area northwards from Lombardy in die urban belt, was 
gaining. By die end of the century the cities of southern Germany were already 
beginning that growth that was to be so significant in the following two cen- 
turies. It was south German merchants, not north German ones, diat were 
taking up ‘Italian’ commercial methods, accumulating cheap capital and devel- 
oping their own international commercial-mining-manufacturing enter- 
prises. 88 They were moving on, from simply importing goods from Italy for 
distribution, to manufacturing substitutes for some of them, like fustians, 
paper and armour. Significandy, none of these products any longer appear 
among die range of goods sent over the Alps in 1392, by one of the most 
important firms of fourteenth-century Nuremberg, the Kress. A vivid impres- 
sion of diese is given by the accounts of Hilpolt Kress, who was responsible 
for the firm’s business in Venice. Rolls of cloth formed the most important 
group of goods sent from Venice. In one year 101 rolls of cloth, mainly silk, 
appeared in his accounts, ranging in value from the rolls of cheap ‘Pasthart’ 
which were wordi only 3 'A tiorins the roll, up to a single roll of rich blue velvet 
valued at no less dian 40 fiorins - nearly two years’ wages for an ordinary 
Florentine labourer at this date. Most of the cloth fell into a middle range like 
brocades at 10 or 14 florins a roll, or taffetas at 7/4 florins each. These were still 
luxury clodis, but not so luxurious as the velvet. By now most were already 
woven in nordiern Italy, but others still came from much farther afield, from 
Damascus or Baghdad, whilst the taffetas even came from Samarkand. 
Altogether these 101 rolls of cloth were valued at 1,075 florins. Next in value 
came nearly 880 ducats worth of spices, nearly half of which (by value) was 
Indian pepper. The third important commodity imported by Kress from 
Venice was pearls. There were no less than 257/4 ounces of these at seven 
different prices from 5 s 6d to 17s die ounce. No total value for these appears 
in die accounts, but it cannot have been much less dian die total value of 
spices, and may even have quite considerably exceeded the total value of cloth, 
depending on how many ounces of each quality were in the total. Far behind 
silk, spices and pearls in value were a number of odier commodities; loaves of 
sugar for example from plantations in Sicily, or in Crete and elsewhere in the 

Von Stromer (1970). 

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eastern Mediterranean which had been refined in Venice, and bales of raw 
Syrian cotton, and barrels of soap. Soap must have been near the bottom limit 
of value of commodities which it was worth transporting the difficult 650 kilo- 
metres (400 miles) through the Brenner to Nuremberg. It was only put down 
in the accounts at 2 ducats per 100 pounds, and the whole half ton that Kress 
imported was worth far less than the single roll of blue velvet. In the opposite 
direction the Kress sent over 3,600 florins worth of silver, about two-thirds in 
ingot form and one third worked up by Nuremberg silversmiths. The value put 
on skilled craftsmanship seems surprisingly small to modern eyes, for the silver 
plate was only valued at a rate some 8 per cent higher than bar silver. By con- 
trast with silver, the value of gold sent to Venice by this route seems small. 
There was only just over 500 florins worth, and since nearly 140 florins worth 
of gold was sent in the opposite direction, the net value of gold was not very 
great. Of the four other commodities that Kress sent to Venice, only Baltic 
amber is possibly even worth mentioning, but this was barely worth more than 
the sugar sent in the opposite direction. 

In essence, then, Kress’s trade with Venice consisted almost exclusively of 
silver and silver plate in one direction, and primarily of silks, spices and pearls 
in the reverse direction. South Germans were beginning to be able to produce 
so many other luxury goods themselves. This was just part of an ‘ongoing 
shifting of the locus of economic leadership’ which was in the following cen- 
turies to move all the way up the urban belt from Lombardy to south Germany, 
to Antwerp and its hinterland, to the United Provinces, and to England, before 
starting to move back south-eastwards in the twentieth century. But those his- 
tories make up several other stories. 

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Maurice Keen 

at a date which cannot be pinpointed in the year 1325, King Charles-Robert 
of Hungary founded the Society of St George, an elite band of fifty knights 
who were to be entitled to wear a special habit, were to meet three times a 
year for the ‘chapter’ of their society (on St George’s day, on the feast of the 
nativity of the Virgin and at Epiphany) and who were sworn to observe a 
series of religious knightly obligations laid down in the founder’s statutes. 1 
This, as far as we know, was the first instituted of the princely secular orders 
of chivalry, whose appearance was one of the most striking novel features 
of the history of knighthood in the fourteenth century. The foundation of 
the Society of St George was followed by that of the Order of the Band in 
Castile (1330), of the Garter in England (1349), the Star in France (1351), the 
Golden Buckle in the empire (1355), the Collar in Savoy (1364) and the 
Ermine in Brittany (1381); there were others too. The statutes of all these 
societies bear a family resemblance to one another. They detail the obliga- 
tions of the companions to the sovereign or ‘master’ of the order and to one 
another, provide for regular chapter meetings (usually on the feast of the 
patron saint of the order, to be followed by High Mass in its chapel and a 
lavish banquet) and set out rules about the cut and wearing of the robes and 
insignia of the company. 

Membership was limited to those who were of noble birth and ‘without 
reproach’ in reputation. Their founders clearly intended that they should 
reflect what was in contemporary eyes best and most prized in the aristocratic 
knightly ethos. 

Given that the foundation of the first of these new orders follows a bare 
dozen years after die dramatic dissolution of the old crusading order of the 
Templars, their rise inevitably seems to suggest that a growing secular and 
princely orientation was a significant feature of the fourteenth-century 

1 Boulton (1987), pp. joff. 


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development of the chivalric ideal. The circumstances surrounding individual 
foundations certainly seems to confirm that suggestion. 

The Society of St George was founded by King Charles-Robert in the after- 
math of his triumph over a great revolt of the older native barons of Hungary, 
and the principal purpose behind die foundation seems to have been to 
honour and to cement the fidelity of the new nobility drat he had gathered 
around him during the civil wars of die first fifteen years of his reign. Its 
primary object, so the prologue to its statutes declared, was to protect the king 
from his enemies. 2 The Chronicle of Alfonso XI speaks very similarly of the early 
history of the Castilian Order of the Band, the next princely foundation of 
which we know: ‘thus it happened that knights and squires who had done some 
good deed of arms against the enemies of the King . . . were given the band 
by the King, in such a way that each one of die others wanted to do well in 
chivalry to gain that honour and the good will of the King’. 3 The timing of its 
foundation, again comparably with that of the Hungarian order, fits into the 
context of die series of remarkable occasions through which Alfonso XI, in 
1330, celebrated his victories over his enemies domestic and Moorish, which 
culminated in his extraordinary reception of knighdiood from the image of St 
James at Compostela and his endironement at Burgos. 4 The foundation of die 
two Neapolitan orders of the Knot (1352) and the Ship (1381) were clearly con- 
nected to the turns of fortune in the succession struggles in that kingdom, the 
one being aimed to consolidate the supporters of Louis of the house of 
Taranto, the other to buttress the cause of die rival house of Durazzo, after its 
victory over Louis’s widow, Queen Joanna, and die coronation of Charles of 
Durazzo as king of Naples. 5 

The story of the founding of the two most famous princely orders of this 
period fits into the history of another succession war, the great Hundred Years 
War of France and England. Edward III founded the Order of the Garter in 
the aftermadi of his great victories at Crecy and Calais, at once to commemo- 
rate those feats of English chivalry (most of die founder members had been 
armed in the field at Crecy), and to assert defiandy die justice of the cause in 
which he had fought, ‘retorting shame and defiance upon him diat should dare 
to think ill of so just an enterprise as he had undertaken for die recovery of 
that (the French) crown’ — honi soit qui mal y pense. 6 John the Good’s founda- 
tion of the Order of the Star in 1351 was clearly, in some measure at least, a 
riposte to Edward’s institution and the clause in its statutes obliging its 
companions to seek the sovereign’s permission before joining any other order 

2 Ibid., p. 36. 3 Ibid., p. 53, quoting CRC, i, pp. 178—9. 

4 Ibid., pp. 52—4; and see Linehan (1987), pp. 229—43. 5 Boulton (1987), pp. 216ft, 291ft. 

6 Ashmole (1672), p. 184, quoted by Vale (1983), p. 76. This latter, pp. 76—91, offers the best modern 

account of the foundation of the Garter. 

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Chivalry and the aristocracy 

21 1 

was no doubt intended to discourage French noblemen from being lured away 
towards Plantagenet allegiance by Edward’s chivalrous propaganda (lie can 
only have had die Garter in mind). 7 

A clear common theme in these stories of the origins of the secular orders 
of knighthood is the desire of princes, dirough the companionships of their 
orders, to bind to their service individual and distinguished members of their 
aristocracies, and in doing so to enhance their own worship and repute in the 
eyes of their aristocratic subjects generally. In this way a comparison is invited 
between the founding of orders of knighthood and other means by which 
princes sought to bind men to their service, by grants of pensions, fees, house- 
hold or military office, often accompanied by gifts of robes and livery collars 
or badges (often described in terms very similar to the insignia of chivalric 
orders), 8 and through which they hoped to reinforce, or substitute for, ties of 
territorial vassallage and allegiance. Viewed in this light, the institution of 
secular orders of chivalry appears as a kind of special variant of the practice 
which in England is termed retaining, their companionships as elite bands of 
retainers bound by special and personal supra-feudal ties and vows to the 
service of a prince. Thus they seem once again to re-emphasise a growing 
princely orientation in the ideology of chivalry of the time. 

It seems clear that there is much in this way of looking at the new knightly 
orders of the fourteenth century. The oath that the companions of the Knot, 
for instance, were to swear, to give ‘to all their power and knowledge’ loyal aid 
and counsel to their prince ‘whether in arms or in other matters’, 9 has distinct 
echoes of the phraseology of English indentures (and of the French equiva- 
lent, contracts of alliance ), which retained knights or esquires for service in 
peace and war. The chronicler’s description of how Alfonso XI ordered ‘that 
certain knights and squires of his household should wear a band on their cloth- 
ing, and he himself did tire same . . . and from that time on he gave those 
knights each year similar vestments with a band’, 10 reads precisely like a distri- 
bution of liveries. It is equally clear, however, that this is not the whole story. 
There are significant contrasts between membership of a retinue and member- 
ship of an order of chivalry as well as significant similarities. 

A retainer could expect to be feed for his service: membership of an order 
was more likely to put a companion to expense than to bring financial 
reward (of course he might reasonably expect generous patronage from its 

7 Boulton (1987), pp. 194—5; Renouard (1949), pp. 281, 300. 

8 De La Marche, Memoires , iv, pp. 161—2, for an attempt to distinguish juridically between the grant of 
an order and of a livery collar or devise , a distinction which he felt, significantly, to be insufficiently 

9 Boulton (1987), pp. 229—30; the quotations are from the statutes of the Order of the Knot of 
Naples. 10 CRC ’ 1, p. 178; quoted by Boulton (1987), p. 5 3. 

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sovereign, but this was in no way constitutionally intrinsic to their relation- 
ship). The statutes of every chivalrous order imposed on the companions 
(including the sovereign or master) very specific obligations of religious 
observance such as one would never expect to find in a secular contract of 
retainer. A bond between a lord and a retainer contracted for service from 
the one party in return for the promise of protection and good lordship from 
the other, and this relationship might be expressed in language with chival- 
rous overtones. Such a bond would not find room, however, for those more 
high-sounding and general purposes which every founder of an order of 
knighthood took care to emphasise, declaring that he acted ‘to honour 
chivalry and exalt loyalty’ (the Band), ‘for the honour of God and Our Lady, 
and the exaltation of Knighthood and the increase of honour’ (the Star), ‘in 
order to praise good Knights, and to increase their name, and to exalt 
Knighthood’ (the Ship ). 11 

The comparison between the companions of a chivalrous order and an elite 
group of retainers thus proves inadequate; not misleading, certainly, but nev- 
ertheless incomplete. From a lord’s point of view, the object of a retaining 
indenture or of a feed and sworn alliance was to secure good and loyal service, 
martial or otherwise. The object of the institution of an order of knighthood 
was not simply to secure service to a lord or prince, but also at the same time 
to glamorise it in aristocratic eyes, by associating his following with ideas and 
ideals only tangentially relevant thereto, or even sometimes wholly irrelevant. 
The founders of such orders sought to do this by avowing the ends and values 
of the traditional aristocratic culture of chivalry, the service of God in arms 
(accepting the crusade as tire highest expression of this), die maintenance of 
the good name of knighthood for loyalty and martial prowess, die upholding 
of the honour of women and womankind. Here the most important debt drat 
their statutes reveal is to the great romantic literature that had grown up in the 
thirteenth century and had done so much to shape a knightly ethos common 
in its principles to every region of Christendom: and which was deeply indi- 
vidualistic in tone in the sense that its most powerful recurrent theme was the 
testing in quality of honour of the individual knight. The debt is often explicit 
and intentionally patent. The arrangement of the shields of die companions 
of the Star in their House of Our Lady at St Ouen was direcdy modelled on 
the description of the hall of the Free Palace in the romance of Perceforest . 12 
All contemporary commentators knew and saw that Edward III, in founding 
the Order of the Garter, was seeking to revive the glories of Arthur’s Round 
Table . 13 Viewed from this angle, the contrast between die spirit of chivalry 
redected in the new secular orders of the fourteenth century and that of the 

11 Boulton (1987), pp. 70, 178, 296. 12 Keen (1984), p. 191. 13 Boulton (1987), pp. 101— 17. 

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Chivalry and the aristocracy 

2I 3 

preceding age begins to look less sharp, its growing princely and secular 
orientation, though still significant, less marked. 

A comparison has been suggested between an order of knighthood and a 
band of retainers: an alternative, overlapping and equally illuminating analogue 
would be die aristocratic household of a prince or nobleman, an institution 
dirough which princes and noblemen likewise sought both to recruit service 
and to glamorise it. For these purposes it could extend the web of princely 
induence much furdierinto die aristocratic world than an order could, because 
the numbers of people involved were so much greater (though it should be 
remembered here that some princely orders were quite large: the Star was 
envisaged as a company of 300 knights). 

The household was of course an ancient institution. Because it had had, 
from its earliest days, to double as both the prince’s bodyguard and his social 
entourage (and still could be mobilised as a military unit), a strong chivalrous 
and aristocratic tone infused its ethos and many of its rituals. As D’Arcy 
Boulton has put it, the household ‘had long served die function of impressing 
die world at large with the wealth, importance and noble qualities of die prince 
it served, both by overwhelming visitors with rare foods and cosdy entertain- 
ments, and by enveloping the prince and his family in an elaborate daily ritual, 
enhanced by magnificent costumes and settings’. 14 The household ordinances 
that regulated this ritual are eminendy comparable with those clauses in the 
statutes of chivalrous orders that regulated, at ample length, the cut and 
wearing of robes and insignia, die order of precedence in the procession to 
High Mass on the occasion of the patronal feast and the seating arrangement 
for the banquet that would follow. The difference is not in tone or style, but in 
diat the statutes of orders regulate for a single, annual event, the household 
ordinances for the daily routine of a much larger body of people. 

Princely households were growing in size in the fourteenth century, and in 
die elaborateness of dieir organisation. The standing personnel of the French 
royal household already numbered 400 at the beginning of John the Good’s 
reign: by the end of his grandson Charles Vi’s reign that number had doubled, 
and of course the queen and any royal children had their own households as 
well. A major princely household was subdivided into separate departments, 
each concerned widi a specialised service, the chamber (the innermost 
sanctum), the bouteillerie , the echan^onnerie and so on. Each department had its 
own hierarchy of salaried officials and servants, the higher ranks being usually 
confined to those of noble birth (just as membership of orders of chivalry was 
confined to die nobly born, and often to diose who had besides been dubbed 
to knighthood). The pensioned noble servants of a household usually spent 

14 Ibid, p. 2 . 

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periods at court, in rotation, and while they were in attendance they and their 
servants (and indeed their horses) would be fed in die household and at die 
prince’s expense, just as a retainer and his servants would be in his lord’s house- 
hold. The cost of maintaining diis aristocratic entourage in a suitably sumptu- 
ous manner could be enormous, a steady drain on the princely purse with 
serious fiscal implications. That is why the expenditure on the royal household 
became a bitter bone of contention in France in the 1350s and again in the time 
of Charles VI, as it did also in England in the reign of Richard II. Nevertheless, 
princes seem usually to have thought the money well spent, in terms of the 
honourable reputation and the assurance of service that it bought: every time 
that personnel and allowances were, under pressure, reduced, they quickly 
began to climb up again. 

The most conspicuously lavish element in princely household expenditure 
was upon entertainment, upon feasts, jousting and pageantry, and here we re- 
encounter the same brand of ambiguity that raised questions earlier about 
the validity of comparing companionship in an order with the bond of a lord 
with his retainer. The core functions of the household were to maintain the 
prince’s lifestyle and to ensure him loyal service, but these ends could not be 
served, apparently, without going further than that. In order to impress 
effectively visitors and aspirants to his service the prince needed to associate 
his household and lifestyle with purposes independent of the current prior- 
ities of policy and governance, but which were cherished in the traditions of 
aristocratic culture: and princely efforts to do so very naturally served to 
strengthen even further the hold of those values and purposes on the aris- 
tocratic mentality. Thus throughout the history of the court pageantry and 
entertainment of the age there runs the same strand of endeavour to evoke 
the aura of past chivalry as recorded in semi-historical romantic literature, 
that the statutes of the orders of chivalry likewise strove to evoke. The court 
feast that Edward I held to celebrate the knighting of his eldest son in 1306 
sought an echo of the story of the Swan Knight, the legendary ancestor of 
Godfrey the conqueror of Jerusalem. 1 " 1 Godfrey’s own feats provided the 
theme for the tableaux and pageantry of the feast at which Charles V of 
France in 1378 entertained as his guest the Holy Roman Emperor Charles 
IV. 16 Tableaux of the mythical story of how Richard Lion Heart had defended 
a pass against Saladin and his Saracen host greeted Queen Isabella at her 
entry into Paris in 1389. 17 Twelve years later, courtiers of her household and 
the king’s sought to while away winter hours by founding a Court of Love 
and competing in the composition of amorous poems that would hint that 

15 Denholm Young (1961), pp. 251—62. 16 CJI 1 , 111, pp. 235—42; Bullough (1974), pp. 97—122. 

17 Froissart, Oeuvres , ed. Lettenhove, xiv, p. 9. 

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Chivalry and the aristocracy 2 1 5 

they could love as well and in as courdy a fashion as ever did Lancelot or 
Tristram. 18 

Among court entertainments, jousts and tournaments offered special 
opportunities to evoke a chivalrous aura of magnificence, through lavish spec- 
tacle. They also, incidentally, tended to underscore and promote the individu- 
alistic tendencies of chivalry, since in the lists tire combatants competed on 
equal terms for the prizes for prowess; and they offered the ideal opportunity 
to the fashionable young nobleman to impress aristocratic female spectators. 
He might even be bearing, on his lance or in his helm, a token from a beloved 
mistress. In the tourney, the history of the chivalric ethos at the princely court 
and of princely orders interweave directly. Juliet Vale has argued trenchantly 
that, in selecting the founder members of the Garter, Edward III was guided 
by die idea of selecting two well-balanced tournament teams (hence die twelve 
stalls on die king’s side in St George’s chapel, and twelve on tire prince’s): the 
foundation was thus in a way ‘an extension of the tournament activities of the 
chamber and household’. 19 The manner in which an aspirant knight might seek 
admission to die Order of the Band makes a similar point. He must seek out 
at least two knights of the order and challenge them to tourney (they were 
bound to accept), and if he sustained his challenges successfully he would then 
be sent to the king’s court. There is a strong echo here of the stories of 
Arthur’s day, in which ‘Knights of die Round Table were constantly challeng- 
ing (or being challenged by) strangers and constandy sending them back to 
Arthur’s court to be admitted (if deemed worthy) to their company.’ 20 

Court tournaments could be, and often were, so staged as to evoke directly 
a literary reference. In 1334 at Dunstable Edward III tournied armed as Sir 
Lionel (Lancelot’s cousin). 21 It was after another tournament, in January 1344 
at Windsor, that he announced his intention to found a Round Table ‘of the 
same manner and standing as that in which the Lord Arthur, formerly King of 
England, had relinquished it’, 22 which would be opened at a still more 
magnificent tourney at Pentecost (which it seems never took place: but the 
construction of the Round Table was certainly commenced and paid for). At 
the jousts held in 1401 at Westminster Hall to celebrate the marriage of 
Princess Blanche, knights participating adopted allegorical titles, reminiscent 
of the Roman de la Rose — Ardent desireux, X ’oulente d’apprendre, Le povoir perdu — 
and composed highly literary letters of challenge in a style fitting thereto (but 
not failing to mention that they came to Henry IV’s court because it was a ‘true 
mirror and examplar of all honour, courtesy and gentillesse , )? i At the most 

18 Green (1983), pp. 87-108. 19 Vale (1983), p. 88 . 20 Boulton (1987), p. 76. 

21 Vale (1983), pp. 68— 9. 22 (Chromed Ajdae Murimuth, eel. Thompson, p. 232. 

23 Barker (1986), pp. 97— 8. 

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2 1 6 


famous of all the festivities of this kind in this period, the jousts of Saint- 
Inglevert in 1390, diere was no such mimetic element, but the rituals of the 
occasion, such as the procedures for die touching of the challenger’s targets 
outside the pavilions to indicate what courses would be run, were particularly 
ornate and intricate, anticipating the extravagant gestures of the Burgundian 
pas d’armes of die next century. 

The extravagance of the display and gesture of the court tournament scene 
presses the question on the historical commentator: are we here watching 
chivalry being drawn into the ambit of princely power by generous patronage, 
or are we rather watching the prince and his court becoming enmeshed in the 
aristocratic preoccupations of chivalry, with its cult of honour and its 
romanticisation of individual prowess? It is not easy to give an unambiguous 

The staging of court pageants, feasts and tournaments, as the last two exam- 
ples quoted above help to remind us, was becoming in the fourteenth century 
progressively more and more elaborate. In the supervision and direction of 
this side of court entertainments and ceremonies the heralds played an impor- 
tant role. The steady rise of their ‘order’, in prominence and status, was very 
marked in the period. When we first encounter heralds, in the twelfth and early 
thirteenth centuries, they are hardly distinguishable from vagabond minstrels 
and jongleurs-, we hear of them wandering from tourney to tourney, seeking 
largesse and a measure of patronage from die participants, but they do not seem 
to have any settled attachment to particular lords. By the time of Edward I, 
however, in England at least, royal heralds received regular payments in the 
household, along with minstrels , 24 and by the end of die fourteenth century 
their services had acquired such value as to make them indispensable to any 
princely household. Anjou King of Arms gives a graphic account of the ‘coro- 
nation’ of one Chariot as King of Arms of France by Charles V, and his late 
fourteenth-century tract also describes detailed rituals for the creation of pur- 
suivants and heralds, who should be dressed in tabards of their lord’s arms for 
the occasion and take a solemn oath to conduct themselves loyally in their 
office . 25 The men who had once wandered with the minstrels have grown into 
respected, uniformed officials. 

The duties of the heralds’ office had become wide-ranging, dignified and 
important in the chivalrous world of aristocratic ceremony and precedence. 
They were expected to know the blazons and lineage of the nobles and gentle- 
men of their march (and of others too), to inspect and verify tire arms and 
helmcrests of those proposing to take part in tourneying and to carry messages 

24 Denholm Young (1965), pp. 54—60. 

25 Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson MS C 399, fos. 77— 8; and Keen (1984), p. 137. 

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Chivalry and the aristocray 

21 7 

between hostile parties in war. They were bound to act too as ‘confessors in 
arms’, 26 that is to say to be able to advise on delicate points of honour and to 
be expert in the nice scales of achievement in knightly prowess. No wonder 
that Froissart looked to Kings of Arms and heralds for information for his 
chronicle about feats of chivalry, for as he put it ‘such people are of right the 
just inquisitors into such matters and true reporters of them’. 27 In order to dis- 
charge this side of their function heralds needed to be literate men, versed in 
the romance history that set the standard of knightly values and achievement. 
By the end of the fourteenth century they were well on their way to becoming 
a kind of secular priesthood of chivalry. 

Blazon, the heralds’ special expertise, was vital to chivalric ceremony and to 
aristocratic culture generally. It was by their coats and crests that knights and 
squires identified themselves at joust and tournament, and on the battlefield. 
The coats of arms of companions of orders of chivalry were painted above 
their stalls and seats, in the chapel of St George at Windsor for the Garter, in 
the hall of St Ouen for the Star’s knights. In the glass and wall painting of 
church or castle blazon could recall knightly companionship and chivalrous 
achievement: thus the glass in the east window of Gloucester Cathedral, 
commissioned by Thomas Lord Bradeston, constituted almost a roll of arms 
of those alongside whom he had fought at Crecy in 13 46. 28 The splendid armo- 
rial paintings in Konigsberg Cathedral commemorated the adventures in the 
company of the Teutonic Knights of nobles who had come to Prussia from 
abroad, to take arms against the heathen. 29 ‘Gelre, I have business for you’, a 
certain lady told Claes Haynen, Guelders Herald, according to the prologue of 
his Lobdichte (poems of praise) : ‘I am going to make a new chamber, and to dec- 
orate it with blazoned shields. You shall seek out the knights who are worthy 
that I should paint their arms in my chamber, those who are without 
reproach.’ 30 Heralds indeed had a vital role to play in the aristocratic world of 
the fourteenth century, because they could translate its aspirations and its 
achievements into vivid pictorial and symbolic language, as Gelre was here 
asked to do. They could also interpret back its significance for the benefit of 
the noble world at large that they were sworn to serve: ‘item, ye shall be service- 
able and secret in all points to all knights and gentilksse, to lords and ladies and 
gentlewomen and cause and counsel them to all truth and virtue that in you is, 
so help you God’. 31 

Here the ambiguity that has now become familiar occurs once more. The 
herald is the servant of the prince, whose arms he bears on his tabard and 

26 BBA, 1, p. 297. 27 Froissart, Oeuvres , ed. Lettenhove, n, p. 2, 1 1. 

28 Denholm Young (1969), p. 9. 29 Paravicini (1990), pp. 67—167. 

30 Wapenboek ou Armorial de 1334 a 13 2 . . .par Gelre Heraut , ed. Bouton, 1, p. 67; Keen (1984), pp. 139—41 . 

31 BBA , 1, p. 297. 

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2 1 8 


whose purse sustains him, and at die same time he is the servitor of nobility at 
large, registrar of prowess and individual honour. To this second role, though, 
there was a further dimension, which in this instance softens the ambiguity. In 
the examples quoted so far, heraldry has been used to symbolise aristocratic 
commitment to certain well-established values, prowess, loyalty, zeal for holy 
war - die same sort of values as those to which die statutes of orders of 
knighthood proclaimed commitment. But more often, and much more often, 
blazon was used to convey a more mundane kind of message, to record noble 
ancestry and noble inter-family connection, that is to say noble genealogy and 
social exclusivity. Princes and aristocrats alike had interests that could be pro- 
moted by encouraging and exploiting that kind of exclusivity. 

The growing eagerness in the fourteenth century of families even of the less 
exalted nobility to claim for themselves arms and crests of their own was in 
part no doubt just a matter of fashion, but it was also a symptom of the noble 
estate’s sense of its own insecurity. Seigneurial incomes from land, the tradi- 
tional mainstay of noble living were coming under pressure, especially after the 
Black Death, when depopulation tilted the balance of economic bargaining 
power as between lord and tenants (whose rent was often in the form either of 
labour dues, or produce, or both) in the latter’s favour. The devastation of the 
countryside in the century’s great wars had a parallel effect, in many regions 
even sharper, because more sustained. The nobility’s taste for extravagance and 
pride in its style of life and traditions were, on the other hand, no whit abated; 
that style and those traditions were, after all, the outward and visible signs of 
its dignity, its apartheid from die common herd. Aristocracy needed reassurance 
that its dignity and privileges and exclusivity were recognised, respected and 
valued in this newly difficult world. The right to blazon, confirmed or author- 
ised by the prince or his herald, offered just such reassurance. So did other 
rights and privileges which the prince might confirm to the noble (and 
armigerous), such as exemption from fiscal exaction on the ground that the 
noble served by the sword (a privilege that spread rapidly and widely in the 
fourteenth century ), 32 or the principle of derogeance (that certain occupations, 
notably retail trading, were incompatible with nobility), which made its first 
appearance in jurisprudence in this period . 33 At the same time competition for 
the favours that princely service could secure was sharpened, as was apprecia- 
tion of die reservation of offices of dignity in die princely household to those 
of noble birth. Noble incomes needed die buttressing that fees, pensions and 
office could bring even more keenly than in the past. 

Princes conversely needed the support, service and loyalty of their lay aris- 
tocratic subjects quite as much as the nobles needed diem. This had always 

32 Dupont-Ferrier (1930—2), 11, pp. 175ft. 33 Dravasa (1965), pp. 135-93 and (1966), pp. 23-129. 

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Chivalry and the aristocracy 


been so, of course, but in the fourteenth century the need, from the princes’ 
point of view, had become, in important ways, more imperative than ever 
before. The web of princely jurisdiction now spread much further than it had 
done in earlier days, and princely right was intruding in the courts into a far 
greater multiplicity of cases. The parlement of Paris of the time of Philip the 
Fair was the lineal descendant of the feudal curia regis of earlier French kings, 
but by his day it was no longer concerned just with the affairs of royal vassals 
and rear-vassals, but in those of a great range of people who, even if they held 
noble fiefs, were tenurially remote from the crown. Wars had become more 
large scale, and a prince needed to be able to mobilise a wider sector of his 
noble subjects, regardless once again of their position in the ladder of tenur- 
ial vassalage (and so might have to pay for their service). Wars had also become 
much more costly; a prince therefore needed to be able in a military emergency 
to tap the whole resources of his lordships or kingdom by assented taxation. 
Governance, in short, had become a more complicated, large-scale, profes- 
sional business. The Church was no longer the independent force it had once 
been. The secular nobility, consequently, in kingdoms such as France and 
England and Naples and in the Iberian realms, was effectively the only group 
with the resources, political awareness and organisational capacity to count for 
an independent force in the games of governance, diplomacy and war in which 
princes, because of their standing, could not avoid being the leading players, 
and by their good management in which they prospered or fell. They needed 
die support of their nobilities, in consequence, more than ever before, and in 
a more unitary sense. Generous exercise of princely patronage offered only a 
partial solution here. If carried too far it became financially self-defeating, and 
in any case the problem had become too large scale. Princes needed to reach 
more noble hearts and minds than their purses could ever stretch out toward, 
including, perhaps especially, those of the lesser nobility of die regions in the 
territories that they ruled. The troubles generated in France in the last year of 
Philip IV’s reign and in the time of his sons Louis X and Philip V by the pro- 
vincial leagues of noblemen, who felt their privileges and position threatened 
by royal taxation and over-government, offered an ugly example of what could 
happen if a prince did not succeed in doing so. 

If the situation was shrewdly appreciated, however, noble insecurity could 
be princely opportunity: that really is the moral of die themes traced here. 
Nobles cherished their privileges, their rights of jurisdiction, the right to carry 
arms, to crenellate dieir houses, to dress differently from others. They also 
cherished a style of living which they identified as noble and a value system 
which set a high price on martial service and virtues, on generosity, on loyalty 
and on courtly manners. The key note of diis aristocratic value system was 
honour. Honourable living, in war and at court, in danger and at dalliance, was 

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the theme round which the audiors of the romantic literature of the twelfth 
and thirteenth centuries had woven their didactic fictions: and those fictions, 
reaching out to an aristocratic audience of the widest extent, to the urban patri- 
ciates as well as to die landed nobility, nurtured what we call chivalry and court- 
liness into a framework embracing virtually every facet of noble existence. 
Thus, if the prince wished to win the hearts and minds of nobles, it was in his 
interest to project himself as one who had taken the heroes of romance as his 
exemplar, and to present his court as the temple of honour and himself as its 

That was the message that princely orders conveyed eloquently on the 
princely behalf. Here were societies whose membership was limited to those 
who were of noble birth and were sans reproche, men who had sworn to abide 
by the highest demands of chivalry, never to flee in battle, to stand always by 
their companions, to uphold die honour of God and of womankind - and of 
their prince. It was the message to which, likewise, court pageantry and 
entertainment, tableaux of the feats of Godfrey of J erusalem and Richard Lion 
Heart, tournies and jousts after the Arthurian fashion, gave expression. The 
growing practice of granting nobility (and sometimes blazons too) by letters 
patent, and of bestowing new titles (or newly interpreted titles) of dignity, such 
as duke, marquis and viscount, fed the same aspirations and restressed the role 
of the prince as the ‘fount of honour’. The heralds, as servitors at once of die 
prince and of nobility and chivalry at large, worked to systematise diis side of 
princely propaganda into a science. 

There were dangers in this way of proceeding, naturally. In die process of 
wooing die aristocracy by the flattery and espousal of its values, princely 
patronage breathed vigour into forces which by no means necessarily or always 
worked to princely interest. The cultivation of martial chivalry’s glamour easily 
leant encouragement to those who, like the leaders of the Free Companies, 
hoped to hack dieir way to power and honour independendy, living precari- 
ously on the spoils of war and aping die manners of knighthood on dieir bru- 
tally gotten gains. Some of them succeeded so well for a time as to render large 
areas of southern and central France ungovernable and to ruin their prosper- 
ity. Princely example could also offer a model for which those very great 
seigneurs who were his most independent and potentially dangerous vassals 
could apply in order to make themselves more independent of him, and to 
erode his authority within their lordships. That was what the Montfort dukes 
sought to do in Brittany, through their cultivation of semi-mythical Breton 
history, dirough the pageantry of their ducal coronations, and the foundation 
of their own order of knighthood, die Ermine . 34 It was not easy to drive home 

34 Boulton (1987), pp. 274-8; Jones (1991), pp. 141-73. 

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Chivalry and the aristocracy 


to the aristocracy the distinction, essential from the princely point of view, 
between honour won by the naked sword of the individual adventurer and 
honour won in the service of die common weal, or that there was a difference 
in kind between the loyalty that a great territorial seigneur might command and 
that due to a sovereign prince who was ‘emperor in his realm’. Those were the 
sort of lessons that the encomiasts of royal authority, like the author of the 
Songe du vergier (writing at die court of Charles V of France) were already trying 
to articulate, however . 35 Significandy, in the dialogue through which the argu- 
ment of the Songe is developed, the figure who takes up the cue as the spokes- 
man for princely power and its personating of the common weal is ‘the 
Knight’: it is a sign of the way the wind was blowing. 

In die long run, the strengdi of the kingdoms that at the end of the Middle 
Ages came to dominate die European political stage was built on the success- 
ful marriage of the interests of princes and their aristocracies, assuring author- 
ity to the one side, dignity, privilege and honour to the other. In the fourteenth 
century we are still a long way from that consummation, back in the time of 
courtship between the parties. Jean Froissart, the great chronicler of chivalry, 
caught the tempo of the time and of the story I have been trying to tell, nicely. 
His apprenticeship in letters had been as a poet, living on the fringe of the great 
courts, and the formative influence on him as an historian had been his reading 
in Arthurian romance, which inspired his epic Meliador. That is why his chron- 
icle so often reads like a romance, cavalier to the point of naivety in analysis of 
realpolitik but presenting through its interlaced narrative of war and adventure 
a splendid array of examples of chivalrous and courtly values in action. He was 
clearly not much interested in princely power as a principle, but the princes in 
whose names the wars that he described were fought naturally loom large in 
his book. Significantly, those to whom his admiration went out most instinc- 
tively were those who were also the most skilled at posturing in the chivalrous 
mode, Edward III, the Black Prince in his prime, Gaston Febus of Foix. It is 
no accident that they were among tire most successful and influential rulers and 
commanders of their time, and the best served. 

35 The Songe du vergier is perhaps most readily consulted in the Revue du mayen age latin 12 (1957); but see 
also Le songe du vergier, ed. Schnerb-Lievre. 

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Paul Binski 


By one reading, the hallmark of the development of Gothic art in the later 
Middle Ages is not internationalism — the major pan-European styles, whether 
Romanesque, Byzantine or Gothic of the previous centuries all had an inter- 
national dimension - but rather extraordinary diversity. The major factor 
behind this diversification was the emergence of new regimes of patronage, 
for while the courts of western Europe continued their signal role in commis- 
sioning major works of art and architecture, the role of patronage in the newly 
powerful cities was growing inexorably. Though we can point to significant 
urban centres in the thirteenth century, for example Paris, London and Rome, 
the plethora of urban patronage in such cities as Cologne, Prague, Siena and 
Bruges in the next century entailed both more vigorous art production and a 
wider range of stylistic possibilities. Ecclesiastical patronage also retained 
much of its vitality throughout the century. At Cologne, the archbishops pre- 
sided over the completion of their new French-inspired cathedral with stained 
glass and Franco-Italian panel paintings, creating a distinctive urban idiom of 
Gothic art quite comparable to the achievements of civic Italy. In England the 
incomparably wealthy dioceses continued to see significant building activity in 
the new showy Decorated Style, itself summarised most splendidly by the 
Benedictines at Ely (plate i). Throughout western Europe too, the impact of 
mendicant architecture as developed in the spacious churches of southern 
France, notably Toulouse, was now sensed further afield, as for example in 

It is especially characteristic of the new climate of experiment and exchange 
that the century witnessed the rise of centres whose importance was 
ephemeral. One such was Avignon in southern France, to which Clement V 
moved during his pontificate (1305-14). This upheaval signalled the triumph 
of French hegemony over the papacy and, in effect, the end of significant art 


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Court patronage and international Gothic 223 

patronage in Rome for nearly two centuries. Avignon, the papal palace and 
cathedral of which were decorated by artists of Italian background and train- 
ing, attests to the rising European importance of art nurtured in Italian centres 
whose importance was waxing at Rome’s expense, principally Siena, Florence 
and Naples. With the diaspora of talent from Rome, each of these cities played 
host to Italian fresco and panel painters of the calibre of Cavallini, Giotto and 
Simone Martini who did so much to create the new aesthetic outlook of four- 
teenth-century western European art. Simone, drawn from Siena towards the 
end of his life, in fact died in Avignon in 1344. 

Avignon found itself in the position of those earlier political centres, 
notably Constantinople and Aachen, which had borne the burden of Rome’s 
mythology. The establishment of the papal curia at Avignon reflected the trend 
towards fixed centres of government already apparent in the thirteenth 
century in Paris and London. But its real importance as more than a provincial 
city was short-lived. Avignon never emerged as an especially formative centre 
of patronage, so much as a short-lived foyer for the meeting of international 
idioms of English, French or, more usually, central Italian extraction. For the 
first time we find popes like John XXII (1316—34) commissioning English 
painters and masons for papal commissions, notably his tomb at Avignon, 
similar to that of Edward II (d. 1327) at Gloucester. But only one pope, 
Clement VI (1342-52), consolidated die permanent presence of die popes at 
Avignon by completing the construction and decoration of die papal palace. 
Like so many fourteenth-century patrons, his contribution was idiosyncratic. 
His bedroom in the new and spectacular Palais des Papes, the so-called 
Chambre du Cerf, is painted with a dazzlingly profane encyclopaedia of 
methods of hunting and fishing, set in lush woodland, and dotted with bare- 
bottomed putti (plate 2). The subject-matter, at once an allusion to the antique 
garden painting of vetusta Roma and to die seigneurial culture of the Roman de 
la Rose, was echoed in the interiors of the contemporary royal residence in 
Paris, the Hotel de Saint-Pol, under Charles V (1364-80), but its scenic 
presentation already owes much to Italian fresco decoration. It stands as a fine 
if whimsical introduction to die artistic eclecticism, both modern and con- 
sciously conservative, of the period. 1 

Avignon, though only indirectly influential elsewhere, symbolises the emer- 
gence of unexpected centres of patronage which benefited from the move- 
ment of artists and ideas. Of these, Prague was to be the most exotic, and we 
shall examine it in the context of dynastic art. Naples under the Angevins had 
also earlier benefited from the Roman diaspora. Cavallini, Giotto and Simone 

1 For John XXII see Bony (1979), p. 65 ; for Avignon, Enaud (1971); Laclotte and Thiebaut (1983); see 
also Paris (1981), no. 325. In addition see Gardner (1992). 

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Martini were all employed there after 1310, and seem to have carried with them 
their Roman, Florentine and Sienese idioms. In this sense Naples was die true 
heir to Roman clerical and Tuscan commercial patronage. But Giotto (d. 1337), 
who was court painter to Robert II of Naples by 1330 and also a Guelf sym- 
pathiser, is also known while in Naples to have painted a subject called the 
‘Nine Heroes’, based upon a text composed by a bishop of Liege earlier in 
the century, and an example of the type of Franco-Flemish romance culture 
of the heroic now fashionable in northern aristocratic circles. His later work 
for the Visconti in Milan had much die same heroic yet international and ver- 
nacular character. 

Giotto’s workshop remained immensely influential within Italy, not so much 
because of die impact of the Arena Chapel which he decorated for the 
Scrovegni family c. 1305 (for this was closed for part of the century with die 
exile of that family from Padua) but rather because Giotto’s team worked at 
San Francesco at Assisi, the single most important foyer of Italian fresco paint- 
ing of the period (plate 3). Here Simone worked too, and it is to him especially 
that we must look for a more comprehensive understanding of what interna- 
tional art looked like at this time, and for what it was to develop into. 2 Echoes 
of Simone’s brilliant artifice, exemplified by his murals in the Palazzo Pubblico 
in Siena and at San Francesco at Assisi, are to be sensed as far afield as 
Norwich, Barcelona and Prague as well as at Avignon, far further afield than 
any work of Giotto or his busy circle. Aside from its influence, Simone’s work 
seems especially important for two reasons. First, his style indicates to an 
extent unusual in trecento Italian painting his understanding and assimilation 
of ideas already worked out by French Gothic art, apparent in his earliest sur- 
viving work, the ‘Maesta’ executed c. 13 1 5 in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena. His 
work represented a synthesis of northern and Italian elements that anticipated, 
and probably informed, the later so-called International Gothic Style of the 
period around 1400. If Duccio moulded Sienese painting, Simone advertised 
it. Second, Simone’s range of commissions and material was unusually exten- 
sive (plate 4), and his contribution to innovative royal and civic iconography 
impressive. Towards 1320 he painted an altar panel commissioned for Robert 
II of Naples depicting Robert being crowned by his canonised Franciscan 
brother, St Louis of Toulouse, an explicidy dynastic work; 3 and he also com- 
pleted the decoration of the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena by confronting his 
‘Maesta’ with the splendid armed and mounted figure of Guidoriccio da 
Fogliano (early 1330s), a Sienese military hero and an iconographic combina- 
tion reflecting fully the self-identity of civic Siena. To him can be attributed tire 
first portrait painted on panel, an image made around 13 36 of Petrarch’s lover 

2 In general, White (1966); Martindale (1988). 3 See frontispiece above. 

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Court patronage and international Gothic z z 5 

Laura, to which the poet referred in his sonnets. Simone’s acquaintance with 
intellectuals of this stature also points to the new status of artists. 

Simone’s near-contemporary Giotto alone could have matched his visual 
humour, versatility and intelligence, and Giotto himself is known to have exe- 
cuted Florentine civic commissions which expressed allegorically the political 
state of the commune. Such political and allegorical works were not entirely 
new, though once again their domain had been predominantly the royal art of 
northern Europe, which explored in manuscript illuminations and wall paint- 
ings the ethical basis of monarchy. Until the trecento, Italian wall painting had 
innovated predominantly in the field of narrative religious art, where its new 
expressive pathos had immediately found an appropriate outlet. Fourteenth- 
century Italian secular civic patronage, however, refreshed the theme of alle- 
gorical depiction; and the persuasive techniques, tire rhetoric, of monumental 
religious painting were now turned to more frankly political ends. 4 The learned 
Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s allegorical frescos of ‘Good and Bad Government’, 
executed in die Palazzo Pubblico in Siena in 1337-9, are the characteristic 
instance of the new genre (plate 5). They co-ordinate keenly observed and 
morally characterised landscapes with quasi-allegorical personifications of 
various types. The most convincing analysis of these pictures sees them as 
illustrations not of Aristotelian ideas but radier of pre-humanist, Senecan and 
Ciceronian, political thought. 5 They exemplify notions familiar in Brunetto 
Latini’s Tresor composed in the 1 260s and, incidentally, studied in monarchical 
circles in France and England well into the fourteenth century. Perhaps most 
importantly, in view of the burgeoning capacity of the pictorial arts to convey 
and initiate substantive speculation on ideas of diis type, their relationship to 
prior written texts is also informal. 


Along with the rise of cities as significant locations of patronage increasingly 
marked by their own aesdietic identity and by the employment of thinking 
artists, western Europe’s royal dynasties retained a decisive importance. If the 
diirteendi century had seen the emergence of Court Styles in France and 
England, the fourteendi century saw those styles diversify yet further under the 
mounting infiuence of Italian art, which might be described as the one great 
common factor of the time. However, though the impact of Italy was felt 
widely it was felt only partially, and often superficially. Stylistic exchanges 
remained rare until die last quarter of the century, and far-reaching only at 
upper levels of patronage. 

4 Belting (1985). 5 Skinner (1986); Starn and Partridge (1992). 

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At present, art-historical discussion of the highest aristocratic art is still 
dominated by tire ideas of Erwin Panofsky and Millard Meiss, who argued that 
courtly manuscript illumination of the type developed in thirteenth-century 
Paris was radically transformed by contact with Italian painting, a transforma- 
tion which pointed towards the formation of the International Gothic Style, 
and ultimately towards Netherlandish art in the next century. 6 As a result it 
became possible to argue that manuscript illumination was actually the leading 
and so the most representative pictorial medium north of the Alps after 1300. 
Though more recent scholars have questioned this primacy of the illuminated 
manuscript, there is no doubt that the locus classicus of this metamorphosis is 
usually held to be the work associated with the courtly Parisian illuminator Jean 
Pucelle (d. 13 34)- 7 By the early 1300s there is clear evidence that the French 
court had begun to patronise Italian artists close to Cavallini and Giotto, and 
that by the 1320s a more open acknowledgement had appeared that Italian 
painters were doing something remarkable and potentially relevant to French 
aristocratic culture. The principal means of transmission of ideas were two: 
movement of artists and movement of works of art. Jean Pucelle’s tiny Book 
of Hours illuminated in the 1320s for Queen Jeanne d’Evreux of France (plate 
6) could exemplify either or both, since its compositions reveal study of some- 
thing remarkably similar to Duccio’s ‘Maesta’ finished in 13 1 1 and placed on 
Siena Cathedral’s high altar. The growing number of documentary references 
to Italian panel paintings circulating in northern Europe from now on, notably 
in French and English royal circles, exemplifies a fluidity of ideas at the level 
of the art market itself. Access was growing, and the theme of exchange of 
this type, though socially exclusive, was to predominate in the century between 
Pucelle and the patronage of John, duke of Berry, and his Burgundian rela- 
tives. What it was that French patrons found attractive in Italian art is demon- 
strable only from the ways in which northern artists copied southern 
exemplars: clearly the representation of pictorial space, and what has (some- 
what ungenerously) been described as the ‘pantomime’ of Sienese painting 
were especially compelling. 8 But changes in demand for certain styles in this 
period were undoubtedly producer- and innovation-led, and may have been 
influenced by Italian rhetoric of the period, exemplified by Dante ( Purgatorio 
xi), which lauded the fashionable competitiveness of painters like Giotto and 
Cimabue, albeit as a mark of their pride. 

By the fourteenth century the role of France in lending momentum to 
developments in architecture had slackened. To an extent, tire assumption of 
artistic initiative by France’s neighbours, England in the field of architecture 

6 Panofsky (1953), pp. 21— 50; Meiss (1967). 7 Panofsky (195 3), pp. 24— 34; Morand (1962). 

8 Meiss (1967), pp. 3-29. 

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Court patronage and international Gothic 227 

and Italy in that of painting, may indicate the broader realignments in the 
artistic geography of western Europe already noted, and certainly a decline in 
French hegemony. 9 By the end of the century Burgundy and Flanders were to 
assert themselves as well, challenging the dominance of Paris in the one field 
in which it remained supreme in northern Europe, die figurative arts. If the 
rise of Gothic art and architecture had been closely linked to the French 
monarchy, tire diversification of its late-medieval development may reflect too 
the ‘crisis’ of monarchies of the fifteenth century. The gradual dwindling of 
French power before and after die reign of Charles V, and especially after its 
dismal military defeats at the hands of the English in the 1340s and 1350s, may 
also be related to the increasing cultural conservatism of French royal patron- 
age: this was a period in which the notion of the golden ages of Charlemagne 
and Louis IX gained concrete expression in architecture (imitations of die thir- 
teenth-century Sainte-Chapelle erected by Charles V’s family) and the royal 
regalia (the figure of Charlemagne was placed upon the French royal sceptre 
made c. 1365). These were efforts to link the Valois dynasty visually to an impe- 
rial past. 10 

Yet in their substance they were not unique. Western Europe had still not 
shed the imperial ideal, and though tire power of the empire had waned after 
the death of Frederick II in 1250, imperial art was now to be galvanized in 
another new centre, Prague. Here Emperor Charles IV, that eccentric member 
of the Luxemburg dynasty, was fashioning an imperial governmental centre 
focused on St Vitus’s Cathedral and Karlstein Castle. The former was erected 
in a variant of the French Rayonnant Style developed in the previous century; 
the latter, which acted as the imperial treasury, was shaped by Charles as the 
most staggering tabulation of the idea of the medieval castle ever attempted. 
Its interior decorations executed c. 1360, smothered with semi-precious stones, 
gilt gesso and wall-mounted panel paintings by Bohemian and Italian painters, 
drew upon decorative methods long superseded in the Latin west (plate 7). 11 
Bohemian imperial painting is a central instance of the role of Romanesque, 
Byzantine and Italian art in contributing to the bricolage of symbolic and aes- 
thetic effects sought generally by northern court patrons, especially those, like 
Charles, who represented relatively new dynasties occupying the imperial 
throne at a time of its dwindling authority. Prague in dais sense resembles 
Avignon. Charles was a natural hricoleur , with an enthusiasm for apocalyptic 
ideas like the imagery of die Heavenly Jerusalem’s precious stones later cele- 
brated in sermons preached in his memory by the bishop of Prague. But in this 
respect Charles’s aesthetic regime was not exceptional: on the contrary, it 

9 Bony (1979). 10 Meiss (1967), pp. 36—40; Paris (1981), nos. 202, 204; see also ch. 1 1. 

11 Munich (1978); Gibbs (1989), pp. 176—202. 

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precisely symbolises the eclecticism, fertility and experimentation of much 
leading art patronage of the time, though in peculiarly concentrated and 
archaising form. 

In comparison with Charles IV’s apocalyptic enthusiasm and compulsive 
relic-hunting, Charles V’s French court was tempered by humanism, by that 
scholarly sagesse attributed to him in Christine de Pisan’s retrospective eulogy 
Le livre des faits et bonnes meurs du sage roy Charles V (1404). Charles built up an 
immense library of 900 volumes, including illuminated manuscripts from the 
shop of Pucelle, Aristotelian treatises on princely ethics and no less than eight 
coronation ordines } 2 The impression is that of a court placing more emphasis 
on the scientific formulation of the ethics of princely governance than upon 
the heroic mode of contemporary romantic culture. Charles was not the only 
monarch to possess Aristotelian literature - Edward III of England had also 
been provided with similar texts - but Inis interest was more comprehensive, 
and stands as the single most important royal counterpart to the exploration 
of the notional basis of government of contemporary city-states like Siena. 
For the first time under Charles V, the French coronation ordo employed at 
Reims received thorough and ritualistically precise illustrations (plate 8). 
Illustrations of this type indicate the relative rarity of the ritual itself, and 
perhaps the contribution of illustration to liturgical memoria\ but much more 
probably they mark the definitive formulation of the ordines themselves and a 
desire to stabilise the symbolism of power. The English ordines too were illus- 
trated formally at exactly the same time, in the so-called Liber Regalis (1390s), 
embodying the final formulation of the English medieval coronation service 
first used in 1308. Again, as in France, the later fourteenth century in England 
is a period of striking conservatism, notwithstanding the generally greater 
strength of the English crown. French and Italian artistic ideas had entered 
England through the agency of the royal family, notably Queen Isabella, who 
owned Italian panel paintings, and Queen Philippa of Hainault, who 
employed a Flemish sculptor for her tomb in Westminster Abbey; and 
Edward Ill’s murals in St Stephen’s Chapel at Westminster executed in the 
1 3 50s point to knowledge of the Avignonese and Italian milieux (plate 9). But 
the reign of Richard II, though producing an entirely international work like 
the Wilton Diptych ( c . 1395) (plate 10), is marked in its physical gestures of 
patronage - the erection of the nave of Westminster Abbey in thirteenth- 
century style and the execution of a full-length portrait of Richard in the 
1 390s of strikingly authoritarian type -by a more deep-rooted conservatism. 13 
The most widespread consolidation of older trends was the final develop- 
ment of dynastic or royal mausolea which first emerged in the twelfth century, 

12 Sherman (1969); Hedeman (1991); Sherman (1995). 13 Binski (1995). 

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Court patronage and international Gothic 229 

and which continued to develop at Saint-Denis, Westminster and eventually 

The image of an increasingly conservative monarchy reminds us that the 
fourteenth century is often regarded as being one of crisis, of rapid social 
change, of rising vernacular cultures and of famine and demographic disaster. 
For Johan Huizinga, it was the century which inaugurated the ‘waning’ of 
medieval culture and which brought about a decisive shift towards the pes- 
simism and morbidity of northern Europe in die fifteenth century. In much 
diought on die period, the phenomena of crisis and conservatism are of 
course linked. The most celebrated essay in this vein remains that of Millard 
Meiss, who proposed that die occurrence of plague in Florence and Siena pro- 
voked an artistic and spiritual reaction against the humanism and naturalism of 
earlier trecento art, best represented by the theological austerity and sense of 
distance from, rather than proximity to, God, of die work of the Florentine 
painter Orcagna (e.g. the Strozzi altarpiece in Santa Maria Novella) and his 
circle (plate 1 1). 14 The obvious strength of Meiss’s proposal was that it com- 
manded a certain intuitive assent in the post-war period in which it was written 
(1951). The analogy between die holocausts of die 1340s and the 1940s, and 
the artistic abstraction which followed both was apparent. More recendy, 
Meiss’s proposals have been reviewed as excessively monocausal and depen- 
dent upon a particular understanding of the chronology of die art with which 
he was concerned. Certain works once attributed to the post-Black Death 
period have been shifted back before the plague, indicating continuity and not 
rupture. Precisely because of die high poetic order of the Italian response to 
the plague (e.g. Boccaccio’s Decameron), no evidence has been brought forward 
for corresponding adjustments in northern European figurative art and litera- 
ture, despite the universality of die plague. Again, the structure of the art 
market and its patronage in the 1350s and 1360s remains comparatively 
neglected, despite the likelihood that profound changes were occurring in 
die distribution and outlay of wealth, as well as the make-up of the artistic 

Such changes have commonly been linked to the genesis of die so-called 
International Gothic Style in western Europe in the period around 1400. A 
succinct definition of this idiom is rendered possible less by reference to a dis- 
tinct set of stylistic qualities - though at heart the style was the culmination of 
diat mingling of French and Italian practices which had begun shordy after 
1300 in the work of Pucelle and Simone — than to specific works of art of 
canonical importance. The obvious example is die unusually magnificent Book 
of Hours partially illuminated by the Limburg brothers for John, duke of 

14 Meiss (1951); Huizinga (1955); see however Van Os (1981). 

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2 3 0 


Berry, brother of Charles V, and left incomplete in 1416: die Tres Riches Heures 
(plate 1 2). Erwin Panofsky offered a succinct analysis of the style as a ‘scintil- 
lating interlude’ between late fourteenth-century French painting and that of 
fifteenth-century Flanders in his seminal study of die art of the period, Early 
Netherlandish Painting (195 3). 15 To Panofsky the style had two prevalent 
characteristics, aside from its hybrid nature. It was, first, a style of display, a 
demonstration of conspicuous consumption as a means of reasserting an 
atavistic social hierarchy and control in a period of rapid social mobility. By this 
account the calendar pictures in the Tres Riches Heures are a document not of 
harmonious and fertile social order, of belle ordonnance, but rather of managed 
social difference. Second, through the style’s social insecurities may be 
glimpsed the ‘nocturnal aspect’ of late medieval culture, that aspect emphasis- 
ing disillusionment, morbidity and nostalgia in the pathological sense of the 

Panofsky’s account still owes much to the broad but dichotomous vision of 
nineteenth-century Burckhardtian cultural history, which brought about the 
reduction of International Gothic (a style associated in Italy with Pisanello and 
Gentile da Fabriano) to little more than die conservative, retrospective and 
somewhat meretricious brother of die progressive revolution in Italian paint- 
ing inaugurated by Masaccio (d. 1428). 16 Meiss observed that the International 
Gothic Style as first defined in the 1890s (by Louis Courajod) was collective 
not only in its hybrid form but also, as it were, in that its history was not defined 
by one country or one personality - precisely the opposite of the play of 
chauvinism and artistic individualism in the Italian quattrocento in mainstream 
cultural history. But the remedy offered by Panofsky and Meiss - to stress 
instead the decisively creative roles of individual northern masters like die 
Limburgs, the Boucicaut Master and the sculptor Claus Sluter (plate 13), was 
in turn attacked for transferring to the study of Gothic art the critical and 
explanatory paradigms of Renaissance art and rhetoric, for viewing it in heroic 
and excessively aristocratic terms. 17 Finally, the emphasis has shifted decisively 
away from the morass of difficulties presented by such grand narratives, 
towards the study of the local, of the regions and die cities; in short, to a more 
democratic but less glamorous and in many ways less courageous vision. 

If significant change is occurring in our understanding of the art of this 
period - the post-war paradigm of connoisseurship remains for the most part 
unchallenged - it is to be found in the field of art’s signification, and not its 
style. The study of what Julius von Schlosser called courtly art has continued 
to underline die period’s indebtedness to die romanticisation of feudal culture 

15 Panofsky (1953), pp. 51— 74; Baltimore (1962). 16 Christiansen (1982). 

17 For Sluter, Morand (1991). 

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Court patronage and international Gothic 


inaugurated in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The salient features of this 
culture, its stress on chivalric ideals and heroic subject-matter, had attained 
their character well before 1400, frequendy in the sphere of illustrated texts 
and not monumental decorations. With the establishment of the secular orders 
of chivalry, notably the English Order of die Garter (1349), the French Order 
of the Star (1351) and die Burgundian Order of the Golden Fleece (1431), the 
process was one of final institutionalisation of chivalric ideals. At this level the 
period was in a very real sense retrospective and conventional. 18 Almost every 
important monumental picture cycle of the fourteenth century, whether of the 
‘Nine Worthies’, the Arthurian canon, biblical and classical romances, or the 
‘Apocalypse’ (plate 14), and whether in wall painting or tapestry, had been for- 
mulated textually and pictorially in northern Europe before 1350, and com- 
monly (in the case of the Arthurian cycle and Apocalypse) before 1300. From 
the fourteenth century the quantity of surviving secular decoration increases 
markedly, and the links with smaller-scale works remain apparent, as for 
example in the case of die calendar images in the Tres Riches Heures and the 
paintings in the Torre deU’Aquila at Trento (1390-1407) which, as under 
Clement VI, depict secular occupations and aristocratic forms of dalliance or 
leisure. 19 


But if the development of dynastic or seigneurial art in this period is marked 
by a form of routinisation, the relatively neglected field of religious imagery 
was proving more dynamic. The thirteenth century, with the birth of the 
Gothic Style in the figurative arts, had seen the emergence of a new ‘natural- 
istic’ pictorial rhetoric, the product of the universalising of earlier devotional 
practices and a renewed but essentially metaphysical attention to the surface 
appearance of the represented world. This rhetoric, by which die humanity 
and intimacy of religious subject-matter was projected afresh to tire spectator, 
was associated with new themes, commonly concerned with the Virgin Mary 
and the Passion of Christ. The fourteenth century continued to develop this 
rhetorical and thematic world, but concentrated it into new types of image 
serving tire more introspective devotional climate of contemporary religious 
sentiment. To decide whether or not such themes were essentially ‘popular’ or 
not is unhelpful given that they occur at virtually all levels of patronage in late- 
medieval art. Especially typical was a progressive change in the relationship 
between devotional religious art and the spectator, developed in both Gothic 
and Italian art. The century witnessed the growing popularity, especially in 

18 Keen (1984) and above pp. 209—13. 19 Martindale (1981). 

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northern Europe but in Italy too, of the andachtsbild, the devotional image: 
subjects such as the ‘Veronica’, the ‘Man of Sorrows’ and die ‘Pieta’ now 
served to concentrate devotional attention upon non-narrative iconic repre- 
sentations typically concerning the Passion of Christ, suited to contemplative 
immersion. 20 It may not be coincidental that the century which produced die 
first small-scale portraits painted on panel, usually in profile (e.g. that of John 
II of France in the Louvre, of c. 1350) (plate 1 5) also witnessed the burgeon- 
ing popularity of small devotional panel paintings of a peculiarly claustropho- 
bic form. Images of diis type presuppose a mode of individual attention 
requiring unmediated, face-to-face religious experience of the Godhead, and 
in them we may legitimately see a form of attention appropriate to contem- 
porary mysticism. 

Such contemplative images, related in use to highly ordered devotional prac- 
tices among laity and religious alike (especially the 1 devotio modernd) and occur- 
ring widely in devotional manuscripts such as Books of Hours as well as in 
panel paintings, possess a penitential and confessional dimension relatively 
unexplored in earlier centuries. This dimension was itself fully international, 
because the new devotional art and literature was now typical of most of 
western Europe. The devotional experiences and exercises of lay people were 
governed by an increasingly similar regime. In shaping them, the influence of 
forms of spirituality cultivated by the religious orders, and tire widespread 
impact of the doctrine of Purgatory first formally promulgated at the Council 
of Lyon in 1 274, was considerable. 21 The doctrine of Purgatory was to have 
widespread implications, both in the fields of commemorative art, where die 
private funerary chapel or chantry was now developing rapidly, and in the field 
of images, since the essentially individualistic and subjective character of 
judgement at death and cleansing thereafter, implicit in the doctrine, were to 
undermine the formal and collective eschatology of those key moments in the 
drama of Christian salvation which had so dominated die art of previous cen- 
turies, notably the Last Judgement. Devotional art was now implicated in an 
increasingly sophisticated regime of instrumentality driven by die logic of 
Purgatorial indulgence. 

In the new subjectivism of the fourteenth century lies somediing more 
fundamentally modern, for it was here, in die sphere of religious imagining, 
that new notions of individuality were now being explored. Italian art, fresco 
painting especially, had offered means - the exploration of pictorial space and 
the direct engagement of images with the spectator’s gaze and emotions - 
whereby the relationship between art and the spectator could be renegotiated. 
For the first time in western art, images cater specifically to die consciousness 

20 Ringbom(i965);Belting(i98i),pp. 301— 2. 21 Le Goff (1984); Hamburger (1990); Van Os (1994). 

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Court patronage and international Gothic 233 

of the individual spectator, acting as it were as mirrors of individual salvation. 
What is commonly described as die morbidity of late-medieval religious and 
funereal art reflects no more than the sophisticated means — primarily a form 
of Gothic terror little known in Italy — by which the notion of individual or 
particular salvation was now given concrete expression. Themes such as the 
Three Living and die Three Dead, the Dance of Death and, most horrific of 
all, the transi tomb (the effigial representation of the deceased as a decomposed 
corpse), though often taken as exemplifications of cultural pessimism and 
anxiety, can be understood as consummate instances of the representation of 
the spectator to himself, and thus of a new self-consciousness. Coincidentally, 
in an essay which began with the Avignonese papacy, one of the earliest known 
transi tombs commemorated Cardinal Jean de Lagrange (d. 1402) in Avignon 
Cathedral (plate 16), a monument at once to vanitas and humilitas , 22 

22 Cohen (1973). 

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Paul Crosslej 

the fourteenth century saw the triumphant expansion of Gothic architecture 
from a largely French into a wholly European phenomenon. Gothic became the 
dominant visual language of Christendom, and in the process underwent a 
transformation of almost everything that it had meant in the first century of its 
life. Conceived as the theological and liturgical handmaiden of a small and 
homogeneous circle of European higher clergy, it now emerged, revitalised but 
fragmented, as the architecture of a socially diverse patronage, much of it lay 
rather than ecclesiastical. In the hands of kings, princes, the higher nobility, a 
prosperous bourgeoisie and the ‘popular’ orders of the friars, Gothic prolife- 
rated into new, more secular, genres, promoted in part by the expectations of 
this new clientele. If the ‘great church’ - the basilican cathedral and monastic 
church - dominated the first one hundred years of Gothic, the chapel, the 
castle-palace, the city and its public buildings were now, for the first time, recog- 
nised as the principal architectural challenges of the later Middle Ages. In turn, 
these new classes of patron altered the geography of medieval art. The archi- 
tectural hegemony enjoyed by Paris and northern France in the twelfth and thir- 
teenth centuries came to be disputed by centres of patronage hitherto on the 
fringes of the Gothic world - Naples, Florence, Cologne, London, Barcelona, 
Prague and Marienburg - many of them new capitals of lay government. Such 
shifts in the balance of artistic power had profound consequences for the 
history of architectural style. The uniform, at times rigid, language of thir- 
teenth-century Gothic, the so-called Rajonnant Style, had to be rapidly trans- 
formed into a looser, more eclectic and more flexible system, sensitive to an 
almost infinite variety of local needs and local tastes. From a style limited in dis- 
tribution but relatively consistent in form, Gothic emerged as an international 
language of extraordinary formal diversity; as it proliferated to the edges of the 
Christian world, so it splintered into inventive regional and national dialects . 1 

1 Gross (1948); Frankl (1962); Wilson (1990). 

2 34 

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Architecture 2 3 5 

It is no coincidence that die vocabulary of much fourteenth-century 
architecture - indeed of the language of late Gothic as a whole - found its first 
articulate manifestation not in a great church but in a chapel: Edward I’s St 
Stephen’s in Westminster Palace, begun in 1292 (plate 17). Uniting the new, 
often far-flung, centres of European government was a shared ‘court’ culture 
that elevated the aristocratic values of largesse, chivalry and dynastic display into 
a religion of the secular, and found in the chapel and the castle-palace die most 
eloquent platforms for its sacral-political ideologies. 

Like Clement Vi’s oratory high up in the Tour des Anges in die Palais des 
Papes at Avignon (c. 1343)- his capella sua secreta - the traditionally private char- 
acter of chapels was easily adapted to die introverted piety of the devotio 
moderna. But fourteenth-century chapels also acquired new quasi-secular reso- 
nances, as family mausolea (John, duke of Berry’s chapel at Bourges, c. 1390), 
as treasuries for relics (Charles IV’s castle chapel at Prague, begun c. 1370 to 
house a fragment of the Crown of Thorns), and, where those relics were royal, 
as public theatres for the cult of rulership. Louis IX’s Sainte-Chapelle in Paris 
(1242-8), as the shrine of die Crown of Thorns, and the imprimatur of the 
God-given kingship of die Capetians, cast its shadow over most of the chapels 
of the later Middle Ages. It was copied, with a self-consciously faithful con- 
servatism, by a long line of exclusive fourteenth-century French capellae regis 
(Bourges, Dijon, Riom, Vincennes) and it served as the model for freer varia- 
tions, from St Stephen’s in Westminster to St Mary’s in Marienburg. In partic- 
ular, it provided the archetype for the two greatest royal shrines of the century: 
Edward Ill’s chapel-choir of Gloucester Cathedral, built from c. 1337 as the 
mausoluem of his ‘martyred’ father, Edward II (plate 18), and Charles IV’s 
glass-house choir at Aachen Minster, founded in 1355 as the resplendent 
setting for the body of Charlemagne and die coronation of the German kings. 2 

The dramatic and simultaneous appearance of a series of great castle- 
palaces in the middle third of the century - Edward Ill’s Windsor (1348), 
David II’s reconstruction of Edinburgh (after 1356), die grand master’s palace 
at Marienburg (begun c. 1330) (figure 1), Clement Vi’s extensions to die Palais 
des Papes at Avignon (begun in 1342), Charles IV’s Karlstein Casde (begun 
1348) (figure 2), Casimir the Great’s Wawel Casde in Cracow (begun c. 1350) 
and Charles V’s revival of the keep ( donjon ) at Vincennes (1361-9) (figure 3) - 
is the single most telling symptom of the new shift in the balance of power 
from ecclesiastical to secular architecture. Almost all of diem were larger and 
more lavish than any local contemporary church construction (at £51,000 
Windsor amounted to the most expensive building in the history of English 
medieval architecture), and many took over the functions of the old cathedrals 

2 Branner (1965), pp. 56ft - ; Die Parler (1978), 1, pp. 121—39; Wilson (1990), pp. 204—8. 

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2 3 6 


Figure i Plan of Chapter House, Marienburg (Malbork), castle of the 
Teutonic Knights, c. 1330 

Figure 2 Karlstein (Karlstejn) Castle, begun 1348, complete by 1367 
A Imperial Palace 

B Church Tower with chapel of St Mary and St Katherine 
C High Tower with chapel of Holy Cross 

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Figure 3 Plan of Vincennes, begun in 1 3 6 1 : A Keep; B Sainte-Chapelle; C, D Previous castle (not surviving) 

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as training sites for masons, and foyers for the dissemination of new styles. 
They were also formidable military machines. The Hundred Years War guar- 
anteed increased levels of martial investment, and stimulated refinements in 
defensive planning. Charles V’s revival of the donjon at Vincennes ensured its 
popularity in France down to the end of tire Middle Ages. Edward Ill’s 
Queenborough (1361-5) was the most sophisticated concentric castle in 
Europe. Marienburg succumbed only once to a medieval siege, Karlstein never 
(plates 7 and 19). 3 

Behind its defensive cordons the castle could indulge in a growing demand 
for privacy, comfort and spacious accommodation. The key players in the four- 
teenth-century transformation of the old fortress into the new palace were 
probably the kings and dukes of Valois France. Inspired by the notorious lux- 
uries of the Palais des Papes at Avignon, the sumptuous castle -palaces built by 
Charles V and his brothers in the second half of the century (Vincennes, 
Saumur, Mehun-sur-Yevre (plate 30) and the Hotel de Saint-Pol in Paris) took 
the lead in the ingenious separation of public and private spaces, in the growth 
of meditative and private rooms like the estude and the oratoire, in the decora- 
tive emphasis on the fireplace and its superstructure, in the provision of well- 
lit spaces with window tracery of ecclesiastical scale and in the installation of 
delicate galleries and roof terraces from which to contemplate gardens and 
landscape. The proper maintenance of a large household and guests, that ulti- 
mate symbol of late-medieval largesse, played a central role in design. The 
simple quadrangular plan of Bolton Castle (begun 1387) was largely dictated 
by the vast and diversified quarters it held within it - all carefully stacked 
according to the rank of the retinue. 

These comfortable, introverted castle-palaces also displayed a public face, 
decorated - like the great cathedrals - to impress and persuade. Charles IV’s 
exotic Karlstein Castle (plate 7, figure 2) - fortress, sacred precinct and sanc- 
tuary of tire imperial relics - was indeed experienced as a sacred progression. 
Charles V’s Vincennes, with its vast rectangles of walls enclosing a resident 
court and royal militia (figure 3), suggested a small ideal city, die forerunner of 
the absolutist pretensions of the High Baroque. Most casde-palaces 
evoked die more conventional virtues of chivalry and lineage. Edward Ill’s 
Windsor, the headquarters of his new Order of the Garter, was seen as a new 
Camelot. Whatever their propaganda, the casde-palace’s appropriation of 
‘ecclesiastical’ window tracery, sculpture and painting gave its meanings some- 
thing of the authority of church imagery. In France these ‘church’ accents 
were, probably for the first time, systematically concentrated at the most 

3 Platt (1982); Gorski (1973); Skibiriski (1982); Crossley (1985); Albrecht (1986). For Karlstein, see 
Gibbs (1989) and Stejskal (1978). 

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important stations of entrance and audience: at the gatehouse, the staircase 
and the great hall. Charles V’s staircase of the Louvre (1360— r. 1370), the mas- 
terpiece of his architectural patronage, established the traceried and sculpted 
stairway as the dominant accent of the main courtyard of French domestic and 
palace architecture right down to the middle of tire sixteenth century. And in 
tire vast audience halls constructed by Philip the Fair in the Palais de la Cite in 
Paris (c. 1300), and by Richard II at Westminster (1394-1401) (plate 20), with 
their sculpted genealogies of ancient kings and their roofs drat count among 
die greatest masterpieces of timber construction, state ideology was translated 
into a reality as theatrical and overwhelming as die great imperial throne rooms 
of antiquity. 4 

The fourteenth century saw the heyday of European municipalities. 
Independent, wealthy and ambitious, towns mounted an equally creative chal- 
lenge to the ecclesiastical monopoly of Gothic. The medieval city formed a 
new genre of architecture: an ordered entity far more complex than the 
Gesamtkunstiverk of the cadiedral which it absorbed and, in a sense, replaced. 
At Cordes, San Gimignano and Nordlingen, some still survive virtually intact. 
But most come down to us - often in the guise of the Celestial City - only in 
die backgrounds of panel paintings, their close-packed houses and high 
steeples girt tighdy by a ring of walls. In that single, realistic ideogram the 
churches dominate, for the city’s status depended on their size and number. 5 
In central Italy the upkeep and construction of the cathedral had, by 1300, 
passed from the bishop to the commune. 6 In the nordi, particularly in highly 
urbanised Brabant, in the coastal cities of Holland and in die Hanseatic ports 
of the southern Baltic, a wealthy urban patriciate founded a series of vast brick 
collegiate and parish churches (e.g. St Mary in Liibeck (plate 21); St Bavo in 
Haarlem) which rival in scale, if not in decoration, the Franco-Flemish High 
Godiic cadiedral. 7 The commune’s most visible symbol of sacred-civic iden- 
tity was, however, die steeple. In south-west Germany the cities of Reutlingen, 
Rottweil, Esslingen, Strasbourg and Ulm (figure 4) proclaimed their self- 
governing status as Free Imperial cities ( Reichst'ddte ), by colossal single needles 
(Ulm, if finished, would have been the tallest in the medieval world), pointedly 
alluding to the old imperial westworks of Romanesque and pre-Romanesque 
Germany. 8 In Florence the demolition of die numerous private towers of the 
local aristocracy at the end of the diirteendi century by the new commune (the 
primo popolo ) paved die way for Giotto’s cadiedral campanile (begun in 1334) 
(plate 24), decorated with the arms of Florence and the popolo, and channelling 

4 Colvin (1963), pp. 527— 33, and Binski (1995), pp. 202— 5, for Westminster. 5 Frugoni (1991). 
6 Braunfels (19; 3). 7 Nussbaum (1994), pp. 102— 9. 

8 Ibid., pp. 192—204; Braunfels (1981), pp. 138—46. 

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into a single central form the city’s old identification of towers with political 
potency. 9 

Within the walls, communal governments found themselves responsible for 
new types of urban architecture. Guildhalls assumed a new extravagance 
(Coventry’s, begun in 1394, was pretentious enough to model itself on both 
John of Gaunt’s great hall at Kenilworth Castle and Richard II’s at 
Westminster). The market and customs halls of the Catalan- Aragonese trading 
empire, the so-called lonja , were planned to be molt bella, ?nagni cay sumptuosa (as 
a fifteenth-century source described the lonja at Valencia). The great Flemish 
cloth halls of Bruges (begun c. 1239, completed 1482-6) and Ypres (finished 
1304) neatly organised their internal spaces according to trade and function, 
but turned their fapades into the most monumental civic accents of the Middle 
Ages. 10 Above all, the town hall, symbol of the city’s sovereignty and, with the 
cathedral, the main assembly point of town life, assumed a new eminence in 
the urban hierarchy. In the highly urbanised Netherlands the creative depen- 
dency of municipal architecture on church decoration was actually reversed, 
and the town hall fapades at Bruges ( c . 1377-87) (plate 22) and its fifteenth- 
century successor in Brussels anticipated and inspired the flamboyant details 
(and even the whole steeple design) of Brabantine great church architecture in 
the later fifteenth century. 11 In Italy the greater monumentality of town hall 
design left it even freer from the constraints of ecclesiastical decor; Florence’s 
town hall, the Palazzo Vecchio (plate 23), combines the severity of a fortress 
with quotations from church architecture (tracery biforia windows) and 
domestic building (passageways above the balcony); and in its crenellated walls 
and its colossal watchtower-like belfry, it acts as the visual microcosm of the 
whole city. 12 

Nowhere is the control which the commune exercised over the shape and 
disposition of this new range of urban architecture more spectacularly evident 
than in the republican cities of central Italy. For the cities of trecento Tuscany, 
who paraded themselves as Roman in origin or inspiration, building was 
another branch of government, a public manifestation of a sense of order 
which translated mere urbs (town buildings) into the Aristotelian and 
Ciceronian ideal of civitas (a civic community). In Pisa, Siena and Florence the 
commune assumed responsibility not just for the enforcement of their detailed 
building regulations, but also for the provision of new amenities - fountains, 
loggias, street paving and widening - and, where opportunities presented 
themselves, for the reshaping of the whole urban structure. Trecento Florence, 
with an estimated population of 90,000, is an heroic instance of planning on 

9 Trachtenberg (1971). 10 Nagel (1971) for cloth halls and lonja. 11 Bialostocki (1972), p. 345. 

12 Trachtenberg (1971), (1988) and (1989); Rubinstein (1995). 

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a gigantic scale. The years between 1284 and 1299 saw the layout of an 8%- 
kilometre-long circuit of walls, of a vast new cathedral and equally impressive 
Franciscan church (S. Croce), and of the Palazzo Vecchio - all probably by 
Arnolfo di Cambio. As in most Tuscan cities, Florentine urban planning 
centred around the bipolar accents of city life, the cathedral and town hall. In 
the course of tire fourteenth century the square around the Palazzo Vecchio 
gradually assumed its present form, including that ultimate foil to tire town 
hall’s closed massiveness, die spacious arcades of the Loggia dei Lanzi (1376— 
c. 1381) (plate 23). The cathedral square was paved, enlarged and even lowered 
to enhance the visibility of cathedral and baptistery. And the new Via 
Calzaiuoli connected the two centres - a street dominated at its halfway point 
by the third focus of Florentine public life, the church-cum-corn exchange of 
Orsanmichele (begun 1336), and dramatised at its entrance into the cathe- 
dral square by Giotto’s campanile (plate 24). This was civic architecture at its 
most generous and most theatrical; publicum decus as the mirror of good 
government. 13 

Essential components of this urban texture, usually on its poorer edges and 
built into its walls, were die monasteries of the friars, whose churches added a 
new stylistic genre to die ecclesiastical architecture of the later Middle Ages. 
Despite their variety and dieir (at times) cadiedral scale, all friars’ churches 
share an unmistakable simplicity - a lack of transepts, high towers and rich 
architectural decoration consistent widi their espousal of poverty and die 
heretics’ critique of great church building as extravagant hubris. Distinctive 
too is their often hybrid appearance, suggesting the double character of the 
mendicant vocation. Their high and luminous single-aisled choirs, recalling 
the format of Rayonnant chapels, proclaimed dieir status as ordines studentes-. the 
favourites of Louis IX, the theologians who shaped and absorbed the intel- 
lectual and artistic culture of later diirteendi-century Paris. 14 Indeed, die men- 
dicant ‘long choirs’ ( Langchore ) of Germany and central Europe - a form 
especially favoured by the Habsburgs in Austria and the upper Rhine - seem 
consciously to recall the Sainte-Chapelle (Konigsfelden; the Ludwigschor of 
the Franciscan church in Vienna, both of the 1320s). But as ordines mendicantium 
the friars built die naves of their churches as preaching halls for an urban pro- 
letariat. The contrasts with the choirs (emphasised by screens) could not have 
been blunter. Frequendy unvaulted, divided into open aisles by spacious (often 
capital-less) arcades, these vast and simple halls resemble barns or - when 
divided down die middle by a single row of columns - refectories, hospitals, 
or chapter houses (the Dominican church in Toulouse (plate 25)). To promote 
semi-profane forms into a new sacred context may help to explain the 

13 Braunfels (1952); Larner (1971); Frugoni (1991). 14 Schenkluhn (1985). 

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profound influence of mendicant architecture on a thriving genre of later 
medieval building, die spacious parish and town church; for however ‘unmag- 
ical’ these naves may seem, they sheltered a sacred iconography, either in the 
form of extensive cycles of wall painting (the visual equivalent of the exenipla 
of the friars’ sermons), or in the more haphazard clutter of altars, screens, 
tombs and cult images - small-scale devotional foci articulating the ‘neutral’ 
spaces which sheltered diem. 

For the later Middle Ages, the holy resided as much in innumerable small 
heavens as in the architecture of the cosmos. Medieval churches were experi- 
enced as a spiritually graded progression of discrete spaces, approached 
through real and symbolic thresholds, and demarcated by arches or niches. To 
conjure up heaven’s ‘many mansions’ (John 14:2) it was necessary simply to 
apply to these key barriers and spaces what has been dubbed ‘micro- 
architecture’ - toy buildings (usually variants of die niche) decorated with 
tracery and crowned by arches, miniature steeples or pinnacles. 15 In the four- 
teenth century these complex canopy structures proved as versatile as they 
were prolific. They decorated west facades (Strasbourg, Exeter, Rouen) and 
dieir small-scale interior equivalents, choirscreens (Lincoln) . They were used in 
miniature for reliquaries (Three Towers Shrine, Aachen) or for their larger vari- 
ants, die superstructures of tombs (Edward II, Gloucester; Pope John XXII, 
Avignon). They formed baldachines for miraculous images (Orsanmichele 
tabernacle, Florence), and not suprisingly monopolised choir furniture - 
whether stalls (Lincoln) or bishops’ thrones (Exeter), high altars (Oberwesel) 
or altar screens (Neville screen, Durham). Much of the later medieval masons’ 
energies went into the making of these virtuoso confections; and since dieir 
forms and geometrical design procedures were identical to full-scale architec- 
ture they established a kind of magical kinship between the infinitely large and 
die infinitessimally small. Practically, diey could be treated as testing grounds 
for novelties which only later were constructed full scale (the earliest pendant 
fan vaults appear in miniature in a late fourteenth-century tomb canopy at 
Tewkesbury). Aesthetically, they contributed to a universal order, since their 
application to all media - to carpentry screens, metalwork shrines, stone niches 
and the architectural canopies of figures in stained glass - united the whole 
church in the same language of precise but miraculous geometry. Hence the 
liberating interchanges between media which opened up the later medieval 
masons’ lodge to a much wider range of decorative effects. The ingenuity of 
English fourteenth-century carpentry, for example, made its mark on the more 
eccentric solutions of contemporary church architecture (choir side aisle 
vaults, St Augustine’s Bristol); the transmission of German architectural forms 

15 Boucher (1976). 

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from Strasbourg to Siena in the second quarter of die fourteenth century has 
been closely connected to the goldsmith Ugolino di Viero’s architectural reli- 
quaries in Orvieto. A century later Filarete was to condemn northern Godiic 
because it was developed by goldsmiths (ore ci) and ‘carried over to architec- 
ture’. His instinct, at least, was right, for in the last resort micro-architecture’s 
symbolic resonances far outweighed its practical and aesthetic advantages. 
Much of fourteenth-century architecture, from giant spires to reliquary 
ciboria, is about evoking the sacred by enclosing it in traceried compartments. 

The decline in the architectural authority of Paris after 1300 was clearly evident 
in the European rejection of its most sophisticated product, the Rayonnant 
Style. Since its formulation in die new choir of Saint-Denis (begun 1231), 
Rayonnant had rapidly become the lingua franca of great church architecture in 
Europe. Attenuated, elegant, its thin surfaces dominated by ubiquitous grids 
of tracery, the style continued to fascinate retrospective French patrons well 
into the second half of the fourteenth century. 16 But elsewhere in Europe, in 
the two decades either side of 1300, it found itself seriously challenged. In Italy, 
Catalonia and parts of southern France it was virtually ignored; in England and 
Germany it underwent a fundamental and individual transformation. 

Both the vocabulary and the syntax of much Late Gothic building in north- 
ern Europe was created in the 1 290s in England, whose kings were to have a 
more decisive impact on their country’s church architecture than any monar- 
chy in the later Middle Ages. Despite its general debt to the Sainte-Chapelle, 
Michael of Canterbury’s St Stephen’s Chapel in Westminster Palace (begun for 
Edward I in 1292) subverted die cardinal principles of French Rayonnant with 
a freedom and ingenuity unprecedented in Europe (plate 17). Most obviously, 
the transformation involved the ‘softening’ and quickening of French rigidities 
by the introduction of double-curved, ‘ogee’ arches into window tracery, by 
the blurring of bay divisions though a new kind of decorative vault (die lierne), 
and by breaking the vertical continuity of the Rayonnant elevation through a 
lavishly decorated crenellated cornice, which ran above the main windows of 
the chapel and emphatically severed vault from vault shaft. But the chapel also 
posed a challenge to the Rayonnant dominance of window tracery by giving 
pride of place to a new leitmotif: the miniature arched canopy over a niche, a 
form borrowed from Rayonnant portals, but now released from their architec- 
tonic framework, and used here as the major component of the interior eleva- 
tion. Unframed by many grids of Rayonnant tracery, these niches, and other 
elaborate decorative details, took on a singular and idiosyncratic life of their 
own. Having dissolved all Rayonnant rigidities, the way was open to conceive 

16 Schurenberg (1934); Branner (1965), pp. 112—37; Freigang (1992). 

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die chapel as a loose mixture of distinct modes of design: an austere and 
massive undercroft; an exterior of wiry tracery grids, and a niche-encrusted 
interior. 17 Michael of Canterbury’s method of composition by contrasting 
modalities was not new, and it was developed independently by a number of 
continental architects; but it had a profound influence on the buildings of the 
English ‘Decorated Style’ (c. 1290-1350), many of them directly indebted to St 
Stephen’s and to Edward I’s other contemporary enterprises. 

The new and exuberant vision of Gothic propounded by Edward’s so-called 
‘Court Style’ 18 triggered outbursts of decorative inventiveness through much of 
early fourteenth-century England, from the flickering curvilinear tracery of 
Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, to the Muslim-like lierne and net vaults of die West 
Country, where die Rayonnant conception of die vault as a bay-defining canopy 
is replaced by the idea of a continuous ceiling, embossed and densely patterned 
(Tewkesbury Abbey and Wells Cathedral choir (figure 5), both 1330s). This 
new-found freedom entailed not only the prodigious enlargement of a decora- 
tive vocabulary, but also die use of Michael of Canterbury’s ‘modal’ composi- 
tion to distinguish liturgical function or emphasise symbolic meaning. Thus die 
rebuilt east end of Wells Cathedral (begun in the 1320s) presents a heterogene- 
ous sequence of octagonal lady chapel, low crypt-like retrochoir and a tall 
chapel-like sanctuary and choir, each evoking their respective liturgical pur- 
poses. 19 Over the vast centralised crossing of Ely Cathedral (plate 26), above an 
extensive sculptural and painted programme celebrating die cult of its Anglo- 
Saxon patron saint, St Etheldreda, floats a unique wooden vault and lantern 
(begun 1322), one of the wonders of medieval carpentry, conceived - in sharp 
contrast to the conventionalities of die adjoining contemporary choir - as a 
martyrium-like octagon, a Godiic version of the classical heroa, literally direct- 
ing a spectacular coup de theatre on the venerable status of the cathedral priory. 20 

The so-called Perpendicular Style, which began with Edward Ill’s remodel- 
ling of the south transept and choir of Gloucester cathedral (1331-67), and 
which dominated English architecture for the next two hundred years, rein- 
stated the Rayonnant notion of tracery as die organising principle of the inter- 
ior elevation. 21 Gloucester (plate 18), and its great church followers, the naves 
of Canterbury (1378-1405) and Winchester Cadiedrals (begun in 1394), 
rejected the lavish particularity of Decorated in favour of a comprehensive 
visual unity based on the principle of extending similar and repetitive panels 
of tracery over almost all interior surfaces. But the clearest affinities with the 
Rayonnant are found, paradoxically, in Perpendicular’s most original creation, 
the fan vault (the earliest extant example is the east walk of the Gloucester 

17 Wilson (1990), pp. 191-6. 18 Bony (1979). 15 Wilson (1990), pp. 199— 203. 

20 Lindley (1986). 21 Wilson (1990), pp. 204-23; Harvey (1978). 

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Figure 5 Wells Cathedral, plan. The east end, remodelled between c. 1322— c. 1340, consists of the lady chapel (far right), the choir and, 

between them, the retrochoir. 

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Cathedral cloister of c. 1351-64), a form unique to England, whose bifurcating 
panels of tracery exactly resemble, in plan, half a Rayonnant rose window. 22 
Perpendicular’s simple and reproducible vocabulary was easily adapted to the 
changing demands of a diversified building market. Like die Decorated, it was 
in origin and early diffusion a royal, or royal-connected style, and rapidly found 
favour in the great castle-palaces of Windsor, Westminster (plate 20) andjohn 
of Gaunt’s Kenilworth. But it was equally effective in giving a new dignity and 
order to university architecture (New College, Oxford) (plate 28); in creating 
die restrained splendours of the parish churches of East Anglia and the 
Cotswolds (structurally modelled on the great London friars’ churches); and in 
providing these ‘wool churches’, and the crossings of cadiedrals, with noble 
fiat-topped towers. As symbols of ‘the many-towered city of Sion’, they trans- 
formed much of late-medieval England into a sacred landscape. 

In France, the impoverishments of the Hundred Years War, and the reluc- 
tance of its kings to carry out their officially acknowledged duties as patrons 
of church architecture, ruled out any monarchy-led reform of ecclesiastical 
Rayonnant. It was, significantly, in the ‘freer’ genre of royal and ducal palaces 
rather than in a nostalgically retrospective church architecture that we can 
glimpse tire first signs of that transformation of Rayonnant into the final phase 
of French Late Gothic, the Flamboyant Style. The flowing tracery that gave the 
style its name appeared (almost certainly under English inspiration) in Guy de 
Dammartin’s Sainte-Chapelle at John of Berry’s castle at Riom, and his 
fireplace of the same duke’s hall at Poitiers, both of the 1 3 90s. The Flamboyanfs 
elisions between forms - omitting capitals, and allowing mouldings to inter- 
weave, or ‘die’ into walls or pillars - and its tendency to juxtapose bare wall sur- 
faces with passages of intricate tracery, are variously anticipated in the 
undercroft of Philip the Fair’s Grand Salle in the Palais de la Cite (1 299-1323), 
in tire ground floor of the Tour Maubergeon of the ducal palace in Poitiers 
(c. 1390), and, most dramatically, in Berry’s Mehun-sur-Yevre (begun 1367) 
(plate 30), where Guy de Dammartin perched an ethereally delicate Rayonnant 
roofscape on a substructure of military austerity. 23 

In church architecture, however, the most adventurous developments of the 
Rayonnant system took place in Germany, where they mingled with a stimulat- 
ing infusion of local traditions and short-lived but decisive influences from 
England. German architects took full advantage of a patchwork of wealthy 
and fiercely competitive patrons: small courts, influential elector-archbishops, 
semi-autonomous Reichstddte, and tire increasingly powerful rulers of the more 
homogeneous eastern territories of Habsburg Austria, Luxemburg Bohemia, 
and the Prussia of the Teutonic Knights. Together they promoted a stylistic 

22 Leedy(i98o). 23 Albrecht (1986) and (199;). 

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diversity without parallel in northern Europe, a diversity compounded by the 
sharp division between die brick architecture of the Baltic coast and die north 
German plain, and the stone-building regions to the south and west. 24 

In the Rhineland, the facade designs for Strasbourg (Plan B, c. 1275) (figure 6) 
and Cologne Cathedrals (Plan F, c. 1 300) (plate 3 1), the basis for the present west 
front) mark the moment of German emancipation from half a century of French 
tutelage. The French conception of the harmonic west front, where facade and 
towers are given more or less equal emphasis (Notre-Dame Paris, Laon, Reims) 
gives way to a sublime vision of steeple -dominated verticality unprecedented in 
Gothic architecture. The whole vast composition is crystallised into a gigantic 
screen of tracery, some of it twisted into eccentric and dynamic patterns, much 
of it miraculously freestanding in front of the core of the fapade, like colossal 
harp-strings. In Cologne, unglazed tracery panels actually dissolve the faces of 
the spire into filigree openwork. Nothing in contemporary France equals this vir- 
tuoso application of Rayonnant tracery to a giant version of the German 
Romanesque westwork; still less did French Rayonnant fapades anticipate the 
cumulative power of these myriad tracery motifs - especially the repetitive, 
cornice-breaking gables - to generate and enhance an overwhelming vertical elan. 
Having subsumed facades into steeples it was inevitable that Germany should 
revert to its Romanesque formula of replacing fapades altogether by single 
western towers. The tracery-encased western steeple of Freiburg Minster (begun 
c. 1 300) became the archetype of the giant single steeples of the later Middle Ages 
(Ulm, Vienna, Esslingen, Strasbourg, Frankfurt) . 

Elsewhere, the elaborate traceries of the Rhineland were rapidly absorbed 
into more ‘local’ forms, particularly tire traditional German hall church, where 
the high side aisle walls could be dissolved into diaphanous skins of tracery, 
dominating the exterior as lateral facades (Minden Cathedral, c. 1280), and 
wrapping the spacious interior in tall envelopes of light (Heiligenkruz 
Cistercian church, finished 1295; Wiesenkirche in Soest, begun 1313). Hall 
structures, whose interior spaces are defined entirely by pillars and vaults (there 
are no clerestories), were bound eventually to concentrate their architects’ 
attention on vaulting as much as tracery. Not suprisingly, some of the earliest 
instances of decorative vaults in Germany appeared in the first third of the 
century in the context of double -aisled halls: in a group of Cistercian monas- 
tic buildings in south-west Germany (Bebenhausen refectory and Maulbronn 
chapter house), and - clearly under the influence of the palm-like ‘umbrella’ 
vaults of English chapter houses — in tire Hanseatic north — in the Briefkapelle 
in Liibeck (c. 1320) and the chapter house and refectory of tire Teutonic 
Knights’ headquarters at Marienburg Castle in West Prussia (c. 1320—40) (plate 

24 Nussbaum (1994). 

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2 5° 


19). From these opposite corners of die empire, decorative vaults, one of die 
clearest manifestations of a Late Gothic tendency to unify and complicate 
interior space, 25 spread through much of Germany in the second half of the 
century, particularly in the east (Austria, Bohemia, Silesia, southern Poland) 
where, by 1400, most of die leading workshops had fallen under die spell of 
the greatest masonic dynasty of the German Middle Ages, die Parler family. 26 

The partnership between Emperor Charles IV and the most illustrious of 
the Parler clan, Peter, in the reconstruction of Prague as die new capital of the 
empire, was the closest Germany ever came to the centralised patronage of 
contemporary French and English ‘Court’ architecture. Peter Parler had prob- 
ably worked as an apprentice on the west fapade of Cologne Cathedral, and his 
completion of the choir of Prague Cadiedral (1356-85) (plate 32, figure 7) 
amounts to a transformation of conventional Rayonnant in the same 
exploratory spirit as Michael of Canterbury’s at St Stephen’s Chapel. 
Everywhere the interior of the choir of Cologne Cathedral — the canon of 
Franco-German Rayonnant — is quoted only to be subverted. The geometric 
tracery is replaced by an idiosyncratic (and very early) curvilinear. The typically 
French datness and verticality is undermined by powerful horizontal accents, 
all conceived in depth: the triforium balustrade, the zig-zagging recessions and 
projections of the clerestory and the bay-denying tunnel vault encrusted with 
a net of ribs, the last and perhaps most ingenious of a virtuoso sequence of 
decorative vaults - triridials, pendant bosses, skeletal ribs — which mark out the 
most significant liturgical or symbolic areas of the choir and transept. 

Whether this bravura assault on Rayonnant orthodoxy owed its inspiration to 
the decorative vaults and set-back clerestories of English Decorated architecture 
(plate 29), or to more local forms, Prague Cathedral became the fountainhead of 
much German Late Gothic well into the fifteenth century. The ‘baroque’ 
dynamism of its exterior decoration, particularly the tracery- and niche-based 
vocabulary of its south tower and adjoining transept facade, was enthusiastically 
developed in the giant steeples of southern Germany - notably St Stephen’s in 
Vienna (properly underway after c. 1400), Frankfurt (begun 141 5) and Ulrich von 
Ensingen’s prodigious steeples of Ulm (designedin 1392) (figure 4) and Strasbourg 
(begun 1399). Peter Parler’s ingenious decorative vaults triggered a German 
delight in elaborate rib-patterning which, for sheer inventiveness and complexity, 
left its English prefigurations far behind. And even before Peter had arrived in 
Prague, in his (and/or his father Heinrich’s?) design for the choir of the Holy 
Cross church at Schwabisch Gmiind (begun 1351) (plate 33), he had effectively 
created the archetype of the numerous hall choirs of fifteenth-century Germany. 
Using the principle of contrasting ‘modal’ composition, he combined the bare 
columns of upper Rhenish mendicant architecture with a smooth exterior ring 

25 Clasen (1958). 2r ' / )ie Parky ( 1 978); Stejskal ( 1 9785. 

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Figure 7 Prague Cathedral, ground plan, by Matthias of Arras (active 1344-52) 
(black sections) and Peter Parler (active 1 3 5 6—99) (grey sections) 

of chapels modelled on the newly refurbished apse of Notre-Dame in Paris. 
Neither in decorative detail nor in the composition of interior space did any of 
the outstanding German architects of the later fourteenth century (Ulrich von 
Ensingen in Swabia, Hinrich Brunsberg in Brandenburg, Hans von Burghausen 
in Bavaria) remain untouched by Peter’s disruptive novelties. 

South of tire Alps, the Rayonnant system and ornament suffered not so much 
a transformation as an almost total rejection. In the two areas of tire 

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2 5 2 

Mediterranean drat succeeded in creating their own distinct versions of Late 
Gothic in the fourteenth century - Catalonia and central and northern Italy - 
northern Gothic ornament gave way to mural simplicity and a colossal spacious- 
ness that recalls, and even surpasses, tire greatest achievements of High Gothic 
structural engineering. These simplicities had much to do with tire special 
influence of tire friars. In northern Europe their impact was confined largely to 
town and parish churches, but in the south, where drey had been die principal 
importers of Gothic for nearly a century, they naturally extended dieir influence 
over the ‘higher’ genre of great church architecture. In 1298 Barcelona’s new 
cathedral was begun under die joint encouragement of James II of Aragon and 
its Franciscan bishop (plate 34). Once again, we are confronted with an ingeni- 
ous exercise in ‘modal’ composition, where two systems, a ‘mendicant’ and a 
‘Rayonnant are combined widiin an impressively spacious interior whose lateral 
expansiveness, produced by a stepped, pyramidal cross-section and very tall 
arcades with prominent side aisles, is certainly indebted to Bourges and Toledo 
Cadiedrals. Its central vessel contains largely ‘cathedral’ and Rayonnant references 
(die bundle pillars echo diose of Limoges and Clermont-Ferrand Cathedrals, die 
stunted oculi clerestory derives from the inner side aisles of Toledo). But die 
lateral spaces with simple wall surfaces, cellular chapels and lack of transept, 
recall a long tradition of Barcelonan mendicant churches, on a simpler nef unique 
plan (Santa Catalina, of the mid-diirteenth century; Pedralbes, 1326). It is a 
measure of die strengdi of diis mendicant aesdietic that the two most spectac- 
ular followers of Barcelona Cadiedral - die Barcelonan parish church of Santa 
Maria del Mar (begun 1324), and die cadiedral of Palma de Mallorca (begun 
1306) (plate 35) - should reject die cathedral’s Rayonnant inheritance in favour of 
its mendicant simplicities. Bodi rival die dimensions of the largest Gothic cathe- 
drals, and recall the Bourges ‘family’ in the stepped volumes of dieir side chapels 
and aisles and die prodigious height of their vaults. But diere is no question here 
of a servile pastiche. These vast, weighdess spaces, with their wafer-diin walls, 
their impossibly attentuated pillars, and dieir uncompromising austerity, seem 
intent on reconstructing the Gothic system all over again - stretching it to its 
structural limits, stripping it of its prickly Rayonnant paraphernalia, and recover- 
ing its pristine luminosity and spaciousness. 27 

In trecento Italy die friars cut into a much more fragmented political and artis- 
tic culture. We cannot expect the history of Italian Godiic to develop in any clear 
linear direction when Byzantine, Romanesque, Godiic, classical and even 
Muslim traditions were variously available to the tyrannical governments of the 
nordi, die maritime republics of Genoa and Venice, the republican city-states of 
Tuscany and Umbria, and die Angevin kings of Apulia and Sicily. 28 One 

27 Lavedan (1935); Durliat (1962). 28 White (1966); Trachtenberg (1991). 

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2 5 3 

common dieme in this melee (though the Angevin south will always remain the 
exception) is die Italian distrust of modernity. Filarete’s humanist dismissal of 
Godiic as lavori moderni (‘modern work’) had its roots in die historicist prejudices 
of trecento Tuscany, confident of its special position as the guardian of a rich 
classical and Romanesque inheritance (die two were still inseparable and some- 
times confused). For most Italian patrons northern Gothic seemed suspiciously 
alien and parvenu , tolerated only after radical adaptations to local custom. 
Another common factor in the Italian situation, which springs from its advanced 
urban culture, was die proliferation and relative poverty of its bishoprics, and 
die consequent transfer of the upkeep and construction of their cathedrals to 
civic governments. Particularly in central Italy, the cathedral was revered as the 
mirror of the city’s religious and communal life. This shift in architectural power, 
almost universal in Italy by die end of the fourteendi century, bodi extended and 
restricted die freedoms of the professional architect. As resident city architects, 
elite capotnaestri (like Lorenzo Maitani in Orvieto) (plate 37), extended their 
responsibilities to all urban works, but were also required to conform to strin- 
gent building regulations, and in the case of special communal projects, such as 
cadiedrals, to submit their plans regularly to committees of non-expert citizens 
- painters, goldsmidis, and ordinary laymen - who could solicit rival designs. In 
this atmosphere of competition and public persuasion die Italians evolved more 
‘popular’ ways of presenting their designs, not by means of die precise projec- 
tion drawings favoured in die nordi, but in the immediately understandable 
forms of architectural models and perspectively drawn parchment plans. 29 Since 
die architects’ skill came to be identified primarily with disegno and drawing, it was 
logical to entrust the design and construction of major buildings to painters 
(Giotto) (plate 24), sculptors (Arnolfo di Cambio) and goldsmiths (Lando di 
Pietro). To allow amateurs to direct great churches (un drinkable in die nordi) is 
a measure of the enormous prestige enjoyed by die Italian figural arts in die four- 
teendi century. It also helps to explain the apparent austerity of an architecture 
often designed as a mere framework for fresco and dirows light on die many 
structural difficulties that beset Italian projects as well as on the obsessive 
concern for stability revealed in Italian masons’ conferences. 

Milan Cadiedral is the cause celebre of diis Italian insecurity (plate 36). Begun in 
1386 on a scale designed to rival - even surpass - the largest French cadiedrals, 
it had to import a series of French and German architects to lay a fancy dress of 
the most modern nordiern Gothic details over its essentially Lombardic struc- 
ture. 311 In die process the nordierners were confronted widi Milanese notions of 
structural stability sharply opposed to dieir own, equally unscientific, practices. 

29 Middeldorf-Kosegarten (1984), pp. 147—58. 

30 White (1966), pp. 336-50; Ackermann (1949); Romanini (1973); Welch (1995). 

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The initiative behind die cadiedral’s eccentric but sublime nordi-south 
compromise came pardy from Milan’s bourgeois patriciate, eager to emulate die 
architectural splendours of the German Reichstadte, and pardy from the duke, 
Giangaleazzo Visconti, for whom a large Konigskatedral was calculated to 
strengthen his claim to the crown of Italy. His premature death in 1402 made 
diat dream as anachronistic as the cadiedral which embodied it. 

Only in the cities of Tuscany and Umbria was Rayonnantpr:o^>ei\y integrated into 
Italian tradition, and then principally in those exterior elements of the church most 
likely to display communal self-importance: towers and facades. The west fapade 
of Orvieto Cathedral (begun in 1310) (plate 37), and its preparatory drawings, 
show experimental adjustments of traditionally Tuscan elements - polychromatic 
marble cladding and mosaic decoration - to the linear and geometric disciplines 
of French Rayonnant fapade design. 31 The problems inherent in combining such 
opposites are evident in (?)Giotto’s drawing for the campanile of Florence 
Cathedral (begun in 1334) (plate 24), where a typically Florentine cubic body is 
incongruously crowned by a pure German Rayonnant steeple (never built) mod- 
elled directly on that of Freiburg Minster. 32 Tuscan trecento architects continued 
to employ a licentiously rich Rayonnant vocabulary for reliquaries, tabernacles 
(Orsanmichele in Florence), portals (Talenti’s for the nave of Florence Cathedral) 
and facades, sometimes betraying an intimate knowledge of their (largely 
German) models (Siena Cathedral, choir and baptistery fapade, begun in 13 17). 33 
But for the main body of the church Romanesque and Early Christian traditions 
reasserted their authority. The new cathedral begun in 1 290 in the papal city of 
Orvieto was conceived as a loose copy of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome, and the 
papal banqueting hall in the Lateran (plate 37). The Early Christian pretensions of 
Florence, praised by Dante as ‘the most beautiful and famous daughter of Rome’, 
were given a new authority with the arrival, directly from Rome, of Arnolfo di 
Cambio, whose Franciscan church of S. Croce (begun in c. 1292) rivals the scale 
of the largest Roman Early Christian basilicas (plate 38). Not suprisingly, Arnolfo’s 
unrealised project for the new nave of the cathedral of Florence (begun in 1 294), 
with wide-spaced octagonal piers and a wooden roof, had a Roman gravitas that 
was closely modelled on the austere spaciousness of S. Croce, and reflected the 
power of mendicant architecture to shape the highest rank of Italian church build- 
ing. 34 In the event, Arnolfo’s projected nave was superseded by Francesco Talenti’s 
present version (begun in 1357), but without any diminution of mendicant 
influence, for the design is a congratulatory amalgam of the masterpieces of 
Florentine church architecture: the piers from Orsanmichele, the balustrade from 
S. Croce, the square -vaulted bays from the Dominican church of S. Maria Novella. 

Arnolfo’s project for the eastern parts of the Duomo (figure 8) was nothing 

31 Middeldorf-Kosegarten (1984), pp. 148— 5 3. 32 Trachtenberg (1971). 33 Klotz (1966). 

34 Toker (1978) and (1983). 

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Figure 8 Plan of Florence Cathedral, begun 1294, present nave 1357-78, 
walls of octagon 1377— 1421 

A Rising masonry over foundations still in service today 
B Rising masonry over abandoned foundations excavated 1965-80 
C Rising masonry reconstructed by probable completion of A and B 
D Rising masonry reconstructed as possible extension of A, B and C through 
pictorial and documentary evidence (after Toker) 

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less than a grandiose revival of the Antique Dome of Heaven. It took the form 
of a colossal trefoil-plan, radiating from a domed octagonal crossing as wide 
as the whole nave. The immediate stimulus came from the older crossing dome 
of Florence’s principal civic rival, Siena Cathedral, especially since both domes 
sheltered high altars of their city’s patroness, the Virgin, and both evoked the 
archetype of all Lady churches, the Roman Pantheon, rededicated as S. Maria 
Rotunda. (Moreover Arnolfo’s dome consciously copied die older octagonal 
Florentine baptistery, itself a copy of die Pandieon .) 35 But whereas Siena’s 
awkward hexagonal crossing remained an oddity, Arnolfo’s visionary east end, 
slighdy enlarged by his fourteenth-century successors, and triumphandy real- 
ised in Brunelleschi’s dome, became, in effect, the bridge between Christian 
antiquity and the centralised churches of the Renaissance. 

35 Middeldorf-Kosegarten (1970). 

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Nick Havelj 

Since the Muses began to walk naked in the sight of men some writers have employed 
them in high style for moral discourse, while others have enlisted them in the service 
of love. But you, my book, are the first to make them sing of trials endured in war, for 
these have never yet been treated in the Italian mother tongue . 1 

this is how Boccaccio, at the end of the Teseida (later 1330s), describes the 
subject of his poem. Like Dante before him, he frequently invoked and 
referred to the Muses, particularly at points of departure and closure. This 
passage, however, also shows an acute awareness of the uses of the vernacu- 
lar, the identity of the author and die status of poetry - three of the issues with 
which this chapter will be concerned. 2 

The Teseida passage also alludes to Dante’s views on the uses of the vernac- 
ular. In the first decade of the century Dante’s De \idgari Eloquentia had 
identified the three subjects for ‘illustrious’ vernacular writers as: ‘prowess in 
arms, the flames of love, and the direction of the will’. 3 Dante had also antic- 
ipated Boccaccio’s ‘naked Muses’ to some extent by referring to his vernacular 
prose commentary on the poems in his Convivio as being like a woman in a state 
of natural bellei^a {Corn. 1, x, 13). Boccaccio’s identification of Latin with cloth- 
ing, however, is interesting as a reflection of the complicated relationship - the 
rapprochement, to use Auerbach’s term - between Latin and the vernacular in 
Italy during the two centuries after Dante. 4 

1 Boccaccio, Teseida xn.84 (my trans.). 

2 Although a few references are made here to Spanish and German literature, it has not been possible 
to do justice to either. For guidance in English to the Spanish literature of the period, see 
Deyermond (1971) and (on Catalan) Terry (1972) — also Auerbach (1965), pp. 320—4, and Chaytor 
(1966), pp. 89—90. On Juan Ruiz, see the parallel text of the Libro de buen amor\ also Zahareas (1965) 
and Smith (1983). For German likewise, see Garland and Garland (1986), esp. the entries for 
‘Ackermann aus Bohmen’, ‘Eckhart’, ‘Hadamar von Laber’, ‘Heinrich Frauenlob’, ‘Heinzelin von 
Konstanz’, ‘Konrad von Megenberg’, ‘Oswald von Wolkenstein’, ‘Seuse (Heinrich)’, ‘Tauler 
(Johannes)’ and ‘Wittenweiler (Heinrich)’; also Auerbach (1965), pp. 327—32. For concise guidance 
in German, see Bahr (1987). On Eckhart, in English, Clark (1957) and Borgstadt and McGinn (1986). 

3 Trans. Haller (1973), p. 35 (DVE ii.ii.8). 4 Auerbach (1965), p. 318. 

2 57 

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All of die three ‘crowns of Florence’ (Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio) wrote 
in both Latin and the vernacular. But their attitudes to the relationship between 
these languages were complex and shifting. Dante addressed the issue theoret- 
ically (in D\E and Corn. 1), polemically (in his Eclogue to Giovanni del Virgilio) 
and practically (in the Commedid). He also spoke passionately of the vernacu- 
lar as having ‘a share in my begetting’, since it was ‘what brought my parents 
together . . . just as the fire prepares the iron for a smith when he is making a 
knife’ {Corn. 1, xiii, 4). Yet his attitude to the ‘nobility’ of the vulgarism relation 
to Latin led to critical debate in the fourteenth century, as it has in the twenti- 
eth. 5 And Boccaccio — whose career reflects even more sharply the complex 
interactions between Latin and the vernacular - finds himself at the end of 
that career (in 1373) ruefully admitting the charge that by lecturing on Dante’s 
Commedia in die language Dante wrote he was prostituting the Muses. 6 Thus, 
although (as the imagery of the quoted passages shows) the vernacular was for 
these two writers quite literally a sexy subject, Latin still remained for both of 
them a medium to be used and a power to be reckoned with. 7 

The book collections of diis period also reflect die increasing interest in ver- 
nacular literature along with the continuing prominence of Latin. A survey of 
fourteenth- and fifteenth-century libraries concludes that ‘princely collections 
revealed a strong leaning towards die vernaculars of which French and Tuscan 
were the most favoured’. 8 But it is also clear that most collections were still pre- 
ponderantly Latin in their composition; for example, one of the major four- 
teenth-century libraries, that of Charles V of France (1364-80), contained a 
very full range of Latin authors, from those of the classical period (Ovid, Livy) 
through late antiquity (Augustine, Boethius) and scholasticism (John of 
Salisbury) to contemporary humanism (Petrarch’s Dialogues ). 9 

Translations, mostly from Latin into die vernacular, however, came to be a 
significant feature of such collections. The inventories of the library of Charles 
d’Orleans in 1417 and 1427 list a considerable number of such translations - 
including several of the most popular items of this period: Boethius’s Consolation 
of Philosophy and Bartholomaeus Anglicus’s thirteenth-century encyclopaedia, On 
the Properties of Things , 10 The ‘translation movement’ had been gathering force 
during the thirteenth century, 11 and it contributed more substantially to die 

5 E.g. Grayson (1965), pp. 54—76, and Cremona in Limentani (1965), pp. 138—62. See also Mazzocco 
(1993). 6 Sonnet cxxii in Opere tninori in volgare , ed. Marti, p. 134. 

7 Haller (1973), pp. xxviii— xxxviii, and Grayson (1965), p. 73. 

8 Kibre (1946), pp. 269 and 297. 9 Ibid., p. 270. 

10 Ibid., pp. 271, 279 and 284—5. On translations of Boethius, see Gibson (1981), Minnis (1987) and 
Copeland (1991), ch. 5. 11 Minnis and Scott (1991), p. 374. 

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Literature in Italian, French and English 2 5 9 

development of die vernaculars in France, England, Italy and the Iberian 
peninsula during die fourteendi. 12 

Translations, of parts of the Bible, for instance, or of saints’ lives (e.g. Jacobus 
de Voragine’s Golden Legend ), also formed a substantial element in the more widely 
diffused religious literature of this period. The question of whether ‘Hooli Wryt 
schulde not or may not be drawen into Engliche’ is clearly a political issue that was 
to surface again in the debates between Tyndale and More in the sixteenth century, 
and it is addressed as such in a Lollard tract on Bible translation of around 1407. 13 
Yet as the tract in part acknowledges, biblical narrative and (elsewhere in Europe) 
versions of the Bible had been available well before the English Wyclifite Bible of 
the 1380s. 14 There were more orthodox religious, such as the Dominicans who 
provided an Old Testament for John I of France around 13 5 5 15 - or their fictional 
co-religious and contemporaries who dispensed ‘the paternoster in the vernacu- 
lar, the hymn of St Alexis, the lament of St Bernard . . . and other such nonsenses’ 
to the devout Florentine cloth worker in Boccaccio’s Decameron (vn, 1). These too, 
in their various ways, had a vested interest in the vernacular. 

Preaching in die vernacular is, as the English translator John of Trevisa 
asserted, a form of translation. 16 Once again, Trevisa’s late fourteenth-century 
contemporaries, the Lollards, were following in the tradition of the mendi- 
cants — particularly the Dominicans. 17 The Dominicans and the Franciscans 
had been active in this field since their foundation in the early thirteenth 
century, and since the latter half of that century they had been die main pio- 
neers and producers of the handbooks of material for preachers (die artes 
praedicandi ). 18 The prominence of the Dominicans continued during the four- 
teenth century: the Tuscan vernacular preachers and popularisers Giordano da 
Rivalto, Domenico Cavalca and Iacopo Passavanti (contemporaries of Dante 
and Boccaccio) were of this Order - so also were the major exponents of the 
vernacular sermon in fourteenth-century Germany (Eckehart von Hochheim 
and Johann Tauler) and Spain (Vincent Ferrer). 19 

12 On translation and the vernacular in France, Kukenheim and Roussel (1963), p. 1 1 5 ; in England, 
Coleman (1981), pp. 41—2, 184—8, 313—14 and 319—22 (n. 204); Italy, Antonelli ei al. (1987), 
pp. 449—50, 463—5; Spain, Deyermond (1971), p. 149, and Terry (1972), pp. 33 and 36. On transla- 
tion and medieval prose in general, Chaytor (1966), ch. 5, and more recently Copeland (1991). 

13 Biihler (1938), pp. 167—83. 14 Coleman (1981), p. 186. 

15 Deanesly (1920), p. 20 (with n. 2); on Bible translation see also Fowler (1977). 

16 The best text is in Burrow and Turville-Petre (1992), pp. 213—20. 

17 On ‘the social and political significance of Lollardy’, see Coleman (1981), pp. 209—31. 

18 Owst (1926), chs. 6—8; Coleman (1981), pp. 172—84; and cf. ch. 3 above, pp. 58—60. 

19 For preaching in Italy, see Rusconi (1981), esp. pp. 1 14—99, an d Lesnick (1989); France, Lecoy de la 
Marche (1886) and Levy (1981); England, Owst (1926), Wenzel (1986); and Spencer (1993); 
Germany, Clark (1957), Zeller and Jaspert (1988) and Haug, Jackson and Janota (1983), pp. 76—114; 
Spain, Deyermond (1971), pp. 140 and 143, and Terry (1972), p. 32. 

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The Catalan Dominican, Ferrer (1350-1419), has been described as ‘a 
sophisticated theologian who deliberately creates a popular idiom in order to 
communicate with an uneducated public’. 20 The mendicants were also 
throughout the century very much involved in the education of that public. 21 
Backhanded compliments to such activities are paid by some of the major lay 
authors of the period - from Dante (attacking the vanity of preachers to the 
vulgo in Paradiso xxix, 85-126) through Boccaccio (in the Decameron, esp. vi, 10 
and the ‘Conclusione dell’autore’, as well as parts of the Corbaccio) to Chaucer 
(in the Summoner’s and Pardoner’s Tales). Satire from such sources seems itself to 
acknowledge the strength of the appetites for which the mendicants and their 
allies catered. One of the chief impulses of the period was the laity’s desire for 
involvement within the Church — hence the increase in lay orders from the late 
thirteenth century on and die expanding audience for vernacular preaching 
and devotional writing. 22 It is not surprising, therefore, diat Boccaccio in die 
middle of the century should make so much of die myth of die friar as seducer 
of the bourgeoisie 23 - particularly when we remember that the inscribed audi- 
ence of the Decameron are urban women and diat the author adopts a fraternal 
and even confessorial role in relation to diem. He and other authors of this 
period (such as Chaucer) may have seen the verbally adept friar as a kind of 
alter ego, or even as a rival for the attentions of the literate laity. 24 


The increasing literacy of the laity during this period derived its impetus from 
other sources as well. For example, the importance of anti-clericalism, from 
the beginning of the century, as part of the challenge to ‘die supremacy of 
Latin, and die privileges of the clerici and litterati who upheld it’, should not be 
underestimated. 25 Moreover, as Clanchy points out, during the period with 
which he deals (1066-1307) the extension of literacy did not mean that die 
clerici were simply able to ‘impose their culture on ignorant and passive laid. 
Rather, clerical skills were gradually absorbed, insofar as they were useful.’ 26 
Practical literacy, die literacy of ‘the pragmatic reader . . . who has to read or 
write in the course of transacting any kind of business’, continued to expand 
during this period - indeed, it has been suggested that its extent during die 
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries may have been underestimated. 27 

20 Terry (1972), p. 32. Ferrer’s sermons have been edited by Sanchis y Sivera (1932—4). 

21 Smalley (i960) and Pratt (1966). 

22 Pullan (1973), p. 62. On devotional literature, see Trinkaus and Oberman (1974). 

23 E.g. in Decameron , ed. Branca, m.iv, iv.ii, vii.iii and the conclusione dell’autore', see also Corbaccio, trans. 

Cassell, pp. 59-61 and 140 n. 266. 24 Havely (1983), pp. 264—5. 25 Clanchy (1979), p. 185. 

26 Ibid., p. 199. 27 Ibid., p. 265; Parkes (1973), pp. 555 and 564—5. 

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Literature in Italian, French and English 261 

It was also during this period that die more ambitious lay reader started to 
come into his and her own. By the end of the century in England, France and 
Italy it could be said diat the conditions for literacy to become ‘somediing 
more positive for non-churchmen’ had indeed begun to be met — for by then 
‘writing recorded a substantial part of their own heritage in vernacular lan- 
guages’. 28 Evidence about lay education, book collections, bequests and book 
production generally confirms this, 29 and a ‘literacy of recreation’ could be said 
to have become a significant feature of lay activity (especially if within diat cat- 
egory ‘devotion’ is also included). 

The notion of ‘die cultivated reader’ (Parkes’s term) would however be too 
circumscribed and modern a concept to apply at all widely to the lay literacy of 
diis period - if by it we meant to denote just solitary and silent reading. As 
Burrow says of the situation of writers, audiences and readers from around 
1 1 00- 1 500, ‘the normal tiling to do with a written literary text . . . was to 
perform it . . . Reading was a kind of performance. Even the solitary reader 
most often read aloud . . . and most reading was not solitary.’ 30 And as Clanchy 
conjectures, by around 1300 ‘private reading must still have been a luxury, 
largely confined to retiring ladies and scholars. Books were scarce and it was 
ordinary good manners to share their contents among a group by reading 
aloud.’ 31 The practice of solitary, silent reading was continuing to extend 
during the fourteenth century, 32 and Chartier may be justified in his claim that 
it was more important than die printing press as a means towards new intel- 
lectual horizons and ‘previously unthinkable audacities’. 33 But the experience 
of reading, except for a certain elite of the laity, was still substantially 
oral/aural: writing ‘served largely to recycle knowledge back into the oral 
world’. 34 

Oral performance and communication also continued to be a distinctive 
feature of die consciousness and procedures of vernacular writers. Thus, late 
in the fourteenth century, Chaucer’s dream-poem, The House of Fame, can 
indeed speak of its narrator as a reader sitting in front of his book, oblivious 
to die world outside his doors and ‘dumb as any stone’. Yet the section of the 

28 Clanchy (1979), p. 201. 

29 On education, Graff (1987), esp. pp. 75—106; Orme (1973); and Grendler (1989); also McFarlane 

(i973)> PP- 228— 47; Davis (1984), pp. 137—65; and Boyce (1949). On book collections and bequests, 
Kibre (1946); McFarlane (1973); Clanchy (1979), pp. 125—32; and Coulter (1944). On book produc- 
tion and distribution, Graff (1987), esp. pp. 88—92; Clanchy (1979), ch. 4; Griffiths and Pearsall (1989); 
and Marichal (1964). 30 Burrow (1982), p. 47. 

31 Clanchy (1979), p. 198; see also Crosby (1936); Chaytor (1966), pp. 10—19 an d l 44 ~ 7 » an d Walker 
(1971)5 P- 17- 

32 Saenger (1982), pp. 367— 414; Burrow (1982), pp. 5 3— 4; and Chartier (1989), p. 125. On public reading 

in England and France in this period, see Coleman (1996). 33 Chartier (1989), pp. 125—6. 

34 Ong (1982), p. 1 19. 

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poem in which this scene is evoked begins with the traditional oral performer’s 
appeal to his audience: 

Now herkeneth every maner man 

That Englissh understonde kan 

and two more verbs denote hearing ( listeth — i.e. ‘listen’ - and here, ‘hear’) within 
the next two lines of this address. 35 Chaucer can also, during a later address to 
his public ( Canterbury Taks 1, 3171-86), playfully refer in the same breath to die 
private (and possibly prurient) reader of The Miller’s Tale and to its public (and 
potentially embarrassable) hearers. His contemporary, Froissart, whilst con- 
stantly asserting die importance of the written word, 36 uses, it seems, verbs that 
‘designate oral gesture’ (parler , oir, etc.) for his personal authorial interventions 
in the text - and the evidence suggests that he ‘reserved the verb ecrire to des- 
ignate the already redacted text on the sheet in opposition to the present, 
continuous transformation that constitutes oral composition by dictation’. 37 
The process of vernacular writing does not in most cases seem to have been 
envisaged simply as silent interaction between author and reader - nor as 
‘peace and quiet’, to quote a slighdy later (and Latin) writer, in angulo cum libro, 
‘in the corner with a book’. 38 

To recognise these aspects of authorial consciousness as a feature of die 
interaction between orality and literacy is in no way to deny the importance of 
such writers’ claims to status, name and fame. Froissart, for example, in the 
latest version of the Prologue to his Chroniques exalts the role of the writer, 39 
and late in his career he voiced the hope that when he was ‘dead and rotten’ he 
would live on in his ‘high and noble history’. 40 


The concept of the auctor had already undergone significant changes at die 
hands of thirteenth-century scholasticism, when scriptural authors had come 
to be seen as ‘divinely inspired yet supremely human beings who possessed 
their own literary and moral purposes and problems, their sins and their 
styles’ 41 - and St Bonaventure’s often-quoted categorisation of writers as 
‘scribes’, ‘compilers’, ‘commentators’ or ‘authors’ gives prominence to die 
concept of words as personal property (sua as opposed to aliena ). 42 A further 

35 HF , lines 509—12 and 652—8. All quotations from Chaucer’s works are from The Riverside Chaucer ; ed. 
Benson etal. 36 For examples, Diller (1982), p. 182 n. 6. 

37 Ibid., p. 1 51. See also, however, Walker (1971), p. 39. 

38 Thomas a Kempis, quoted in Eco (1983), p. 5. 39 Boitani (1984), pp. 125—6. 

40 Palmer (1981), p. 1. See also FC, xii, p. 2. 41 Minnis and Scott (1991), p. 197. 

42 Bonaventura, Opera Omnia , 1, pp. 14— 1 5. 

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Literature in Italian, French and English 


stage in this process is signalled by the development of ‘self-commentary’ as a 
means of conferring status upon vernacular writing. 43 Dante provided ver- 
nacular prose commentaries for his own poems in the X Ita Nuova and the 
Convivio (and, if the ‘Episde to Can Grande’ is authentic, a Latin introduction 
to the Commedia ). 44 Boccaccio wrote extensive chiose (glosses) on his Teseida 
which at some points develop into mythographic essays - and Petrarch com- 
mented on his own first Eclogue in a letter. 45 Later in the century a French com- 
mentary accompanies Les echecs amoureux (The Chess of Love), a long poem in 
the tradition of die Roman de la Rose 46 - and Chaucer’s friend and contempo- 
raryjohn Gower (c. 1330-1408) resorted to Latin for his self-commentary on 
his major vernacular poem, the Confessio Amantisf 1 

Dante’s Commedia itself rapidly became material for commentary (both 
Latin and vernacular) during the course of die fourteenth century. 48 He 
became a model for Boccaccio and a cause for ‘anxiety of intiuence’ in 
Petrarch. 49 By the end of the century his fame had become widespread in 
Europe. Chaucer refers to him in die Monk’s Tale (line 2460) as ‘the grete poete 
of Ytaille’ and in the Wife of Bath’s Tale (line 1125) as ‘the wise poete of 
Florence’. Christine de Pisan in her Livre de la mutation de fortune (written 
between 1400 and 1403) calls him ‘le vaillant / Poete’, and in her Chemin de long 
estude (1402-3) she pays tribute to ‘Dant de Flourence’ and his ‘moult biau 
stile’. 50 By 1429 the first complete vernacular translations of the Commedia (into 
Castilian prose and Catalan verse) had appeared in Spain, and by 141 7 the poem 
had twice been translated into Latin. 51 The epitaph diat Giovanni del Virgilio 
composed (in Latin) for Dante in 1321 does not dierefore seem to be exagger- 
ating much in saying that ‘the glory of the Muses, the most loved vernacular 
author lies here and his fame strikes from pole to pole’. 52 

43 Minnis and Scott (1991), esp. pp. 375-Bo and 382—7; also Minnis (1990), pp. 25—42, and Weiss (1990), 
pp. 1 1 8—29. 

44 For translations of the ‘Epistle’, Haller (1973), pp. 95—1 1 1, and Minnis and Scott (1991), pp. 45 8—69 

(excerpt). Its authenticity is still very much in dispute; see Kelly (1989), Paolazzi (1 989) and Hollander 
(1993). 45 Familiari , ed. Rossi and Bosco (193 3—42), x, p. 4. 46 Minnis (1990), p. 3 3 and n. 26. 

47 On Gower’s Latin glosses to the Confessio A^m antis ^ see Pearsall (1988), pp. 12—26. 

48 Kelly (1989), chs. 3, 4 and 6, and Minnis and Scott (1991), pp. 439-5 8 (esp. p. 442 and n. 13). 

49 On Boccaccio’s view and use of Dante, see Havely (1980), pp. 8—9 with nn. 117—29, and Minnis and 
Scott (1991), pp. 45 3—8 and 492—519. For Petrarch’s fear of becoming an ‘unwilling or unconscious 
(vel invitus ac nesciens) imitator’ of Dante, see his Familiari , xxi.xv.i 1 (p. 96). 

50 Christine de Pisan, Fe livre de la mutacion de fortune , n, p. 1 5, lines 4645—6; and Le livre du chemin de long 
estude , p. 49, lines 1 141, 1128—30 and 1 136—7. 

51 Friederich (1950), pp. 16—18 (Ferrer’s Catalan verse translation of 1429), 27—8 (Villena’s Castilian 
prose version of 1428), 78 (Matteo Ronto’s translation (‘probably before the end of the fourteenth 
century’) and Giovanni da Serravalle’s, of 1416—17). Serravalle’s translation appears to have been ini- 
tiated at the Council of Constance in 141 5 (ibid., p. 190). 

52 My trans. of lines 3—4. For the Latin text of the epitaph, see Wicksteed and Gardner (1902), p. 174. 

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Widespread fame and contemporary recognition were also accorded to 
some vernacular writers in France and England — even if their work was not 
translated into Latin or subject, as yet, to die attentions of a thoroughgoing 
critical industry. Guillaume de Machaut is die dominant figure in French poetry 
of the period - at die head of a tradition that includes Othon de Granson and 
Eustache Deschamps and, in the following century, Christine de Pisan, Alain 
Chartier, Charles d’Orleans and Francois Villon. 53 After his death in 1377 
Machaut was commemorated as ‘dower of all dowers, noble poet and famous 
maker’ in two ballades by Deschamps, 54 and his work is a major induence on 
Chaucer’s poetry of the 1370s and 1380s, aldiough the English poet does not 
cite him (unlike Dante) by name. 55 Chaucer’s own reputation also appears to 
have been recognised in his own time, bodi in his own country (for instance, 
by his friend Gower) 56 and abroad, in (once again) a ballade by Deschamps. 57 

A sense of their own identity is articulated by such writers in a variety of 
ways. For instance, some recent studies of Machaut see die poet ‘self-con- 
sciously’ forging such an identity ‘by conjoining die clerkly narrator figure of 
Old French . . . hagiography and romance, the first person lyric voice of the 
grand chant courtois, and a new conception of the professional artist’. 58 They also 
emphasise Machaut’s consciousness of writing as ‘a specialized, quasi- 
professional activity’, of his ‘supervision of the publication of his works and 
of his concern for their arrangement’. 59 Such supervision and concern is not 
(for whatever reason) apparent in Chaucer’s treatment of his own text - 
indeed, tidy-minded textual critics have commented on the untidy state in 
which his papers must have been left. 60 

In Chaucer’s case, diough, there are odier ways in which a sense of poetic 
identity is mediated. For instance, like his major Italian models - Dante and 
Boccaccio - he invokes the Muses at certain significant points of new departure 
in his poetry, from The House of Fame to Troilus and Criseyde , 61 Such invocations 
were a well-worn convention in classical and medieval Latin, but they seem in 
tliis period to have become, for die status-seeking vernacular poet, an exciting 

53 Poirion (1965), pp. 192—3 and 203—5. 

54 Deschamps, Oeuvres completes, 1, pp. 245—6 and 111, pp. 259—60. 

55 Wimsatt (1968); see also Windeatt (1982) and Machaut, Le judgement , ed. Wimsatt et al. 

56 Gower, Confessio Amantis, vm, p. 2941*. Here, in the ‘first recension’ of Gower’s conclusion to the 
poem, Venus speaks of Chaucer as ‘mi disciple and mi poete’. Gower’s own fame abroad was not 
negligible: his Confessio was translated into Portuguese (a version now lost) and then Castilian prose 
during the first half of the fifteenth century; see Russell (1961) and Moreno (1991). 

57 Deschamps Oeuvres completes, ti, pp. 138— 9. A translation is in Brewer (1978), 1, pp. 39— 42. Deschamps 

addresses Chaucer here as ‘great translator’ (grand translateur ) and ‘noble poet’ (poete haull) in lines 20 
and 31. 58 Brownlee (1984), p. 3. On poetic identity, see also Miller (1986). 

59 Williams (1969), pp. 434 and 445-6. 60 E.g. Blake (1985). 

61 III', lines 520—2: Anel'ida C Arcite, lines 15—20; Troilus 11, 8—10. 

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Literature in Italian, French and English 


means of mobilising imaginative resources and articulating a purpose. Mention 
of tire Muses often has a rhetorical effect similar to that of the author’s ‘address 
to tire reader’ and sometimes even accompanies it - as in canto 1 1 of Dante’s 
Paradiso (1-1 8), where reference to ‘new’ and/or ‘nine’ Muses (nove Muse) occurs 
at tire mid point of such an address - and in Book 11 of Chaucer’s Troilus (1-49), 
where the invocation of Clio, Muse of history, accompanies an address to lovers, 
as well as a rich and strange mixture of allusions to Dante and others. 

It seems probable that Dante and Chaucer were the first poets in their 
respective vernaculars to invoke the Muses. 62 Dante follows and develops clas- 
sical practice by doing this at or near the beginning of each cantica of the 
Commedia (Inf. n, Purg. 1, and Par. ii). 63 Chaucer alludes to Dante’s invocations 
and invocatory language on a number of occasions, from The House of Fame to 
die Troilus , and through such ‘translations’ he effects a powerful response to 
die Commedia’s sense of new beginnings. Several of the Dantean invocations 
diat are reworked in The House of Fame and the Troilus represent fresh depar- 
tures, 64 and The House of Fame itself, it could be argued, is all about beginnings 
- including die appeal for Apollo’s guidance in the Invocation to its ‘lytel laste 
bok’ (1091-1 109), which achieves the odd effect of being both Dantean and 
self-deprecatory in its approach to literary ‘craft’ and ‘art poetical’. 


Another sign of the status of the vernacular ‘art poetical’ is the use in this 
period of the very words poeta, poete and poet. In Italian before Dante poeta 
usually referred to classical writers - hence Brunetto Latini in his Rettorica 
alludes to ‘the noble poeta Lucan’ and the Aristotelean notion of poete as medi- 
ators of praise and blame. 65 Likewise, poeta and poeti in Dante’s Inferno and 
Purgatorio nearly always refer to Virgil and Statius - and even in the cantos of 
Purgatorio which explicidy celebrate the traditions of Provencal and Italian verse 
{Purg. xxiv and xxvi) less exalted terms, like dittator, detti and fabbro are used to 
describe die activities of die vernacular poet. 66 Only in the Commedia’s final use 
of the word poeta does it apply to Dante as a tide that he aspires to, when he 
envisages returning to Florence to receive the laurel crown {Par. xxv, 8). 

62 Grande di^ionario della lingua italiana , xi (1981), s.v. Musa} senses 1 , 3 and 4. For Chaucer, see the MED , 
‘M’ (1975) s.v Muse, senses a— d. Earliest actual uses of the word in English are probably in Chaucer’s 
HF {. late 1370s), line 1399, and his translation of Boethius of c. 1380 (e.g., 1. m. 1.4, pr. 1.78 and pr. 
5.72). On Chaucer and the Muses, see Taylor and Bordier (1992). 63 Curtius (1953), pp. 228—46. 

64 E.g. the re-working of Inf. 11, lines 7—9 in HF, lines 523—8; of Par. 1, lines 1—27 in HF, lines 1091— 109; 

and of Purg. 1, lines 1— 12 in TC 11, lines 1— 1 1. 65 Fa Rettorica , pp. 10 and 65. 

66 Purg. xxiv, 59, and xxvi, 112 and 117. All quotations from Dante’s Commedia are from Scartazzini- 
Vaindelli (1932). 

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A similar situation obtains with die use of poeta in Dante’s other works. In 
the Convivio it usually denotes classical poets, and die poeta frequently men- 
tioned in Book n of the Monarchia is Virgil. Significant exceptions are, however, 
to be found in one vernacular work - die Vita Nuova, where the emergence of 
poeti vulgar, i in Provencal and Italian is said to be a relatively recent phenome- 
non (ch. xxv) - and one Latin treatise - the De Vulgar i Eloquentia, where the 
status and precedent of those poeti vulgares and ‘illustrious teachers who have 
written poetry [ poetati sunt\ in the vernacular’ is the central issue. 67 

The uses of poete in French and poet in English appear to have undergone a 
similar process of development later in the century. French authors before 
Deschamps (in the 1370s) had, like Dante in most of the Convivio, Inferno and 
Purgatorio, ‘used the term only with reference to the classical auctores’V 
Deschamps appears to have been the first to extend the term to a vernacular 
writer in his two ballades commemorating Machaut. In the first of these, where 
Machaut is given the status of ‘Noble poete et faiseur renomme’, the earlier 
term (faiseur ) is used as a gloss - and, in the second, poetes describes a pantheon 
within which the contemporary author is to be placed - in much the same opta- 
tive way as Dante had implied in Paradiso 1, 29. Deschamps’s use of poete thus 
‘seems to be deliberate and to involve an intentional expansion of its field of 

■ > Of) 

meaning . 

In England too it is not until the late fourteenth century that die word poet 
applies to any vernacular authors, and even then it is reserved for the most 
illustrious. Langland in the 1 3 60s and 1 3 70s still uses it in the old way, to apply 
to classical auctores (Plato and Aristode) who were not ‘poets’ in the modern 
sense. 70 Chaucer continues to give himself, at the end of the Troilus and the 
Canterbury Tales, the modest name of mahere (equivalent to Dante’s fabbro and 
Deschamps’s faiseur ) - and he reserves only for Dante and Petrarch (amongst 
vernacular authors) the tide of poete , 71 However, Deschamps (c. 1385), Gower 
(c. 1390) and Lydgate (frequendy, c. 1410 to c. 1439) all conferred on Chaucer 
the tide he had withheld from himself. 72 Chaucer, for his part, used the words 
poesye and poetrie arguably with a view to his own possible place among the 
‘illustrious teachers’ of whom Dante had spoken. At the end of his Troilus, 
where he enjoins his ‘litde book’ to be subject ‘to alle poesye’ (v, 1790), he 

67 D]/E i.x.3, xii.2, xv. 2 and 6 and xix.2; also ii.ii.9, iii.2 and viii.7. See also the Enciclopedia dantesca , iv 
(1973)5 s - v - poema, poesia, poeta, poetare, poetica and poetria (pp. 563 a — 5 7 1 a ) . 68 Brownlee (1984), p. 7. 

69 Ibid., pp. 7—8, and the useful discussion of the term on pp. 220—1 in n. 1 1. On ‘making’ and ‘poetry’ 
in this period, see also Olson (1979). 

70 Langland, PP, C-text , xi, pp. 121 and 306, and xii, pp. 172—4. 71 Cl \ iv, p. 31, and vii, p. 2460. 

72 Deschamps uses the phrase poete hault in the first line of the ‘envoy’ to his ballade (above, n. 57); and 

for Gower, above, n. 56. For Lydgate’s praise of Chaucer as ‘cheeff poete’ or ‘Floure of poetes’ in 
Britain, see Brewer (1978), pp. 46—5 8. 

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Literature in Italian, French and English 


seems also to be, at least tentatively, envisaging a place for it within the august 
tradition represented by Virgil, Ovid, Homer, Lucan and Statius, whom he 
then invokes (1792). 

A little later in this conclusion to Troilus Chaucer also uses the word poetrie in 
a rather different sense, and in a way that opens up some significant and con- 
troversial issues. A passage that scathingly dismisses pagan worship and world- 
liness ends by seeming to dismiss also tire spirit (or perhaps ‘style’) of the 
learned pagan writers ‘in poetrie’ (1854-5). Elsewhere in Chaucer’s usage and 
drat of his contemporaries (like Trevisa) poetrie gathers a range of associations 
- from classical myth, fable and fiction to (more discreditably) superstition, 
deception and error. 73 

The debate about die status of poetry and the value of fable and fiction goes 
back to Plato’s Republic and beyond - and the issues involved had been well 
worked over by the fathers and the schoolmen long before the fourteenth 
century. For instance, Boethius’s Lady Philosophy had vigorously denied her 
patient the consolations of the poetic Muses 74 - Hugh of St Victor had been 
generally contemptuous of the ‘songs of the poets’ 75 - and Aquinas, ranking 
poetry in relation to other disciplines (a favourite game, it seems, in the com- 
mentary tradition) had shown certain distaste for its defectum veritatis (lack of 
trudifulness). 76 On the other hand Augustine had distinguished between lying 
and fiction with a truthful purpose. John of Salisbury allowed diat poetry 
might be at least ‘die cradle of philosophy’, whilst in the later thirteenth 
century Aristode’s Metaphysics was being cited as authority for the idea drat the 
earliest poets were also theologians. Some schoolmen, including Aquinas’s 
adversary Siger of Brabant, were prepared to entertain the dangerous possibil- 
ity that ‘the modes of theology were in some sense poetic’. 77 

The debate appears to have intensified during the fourteenth century, par- 
ticularly in Italy. This was pardy the result of the expansion of vernacular lit- 
eracy and of vernacular audiors’ attempts to define identity and achieve status. 
But it also had a considerable amount to do widi the advance of Latin human- 
ism. Hence we find enlisted among the fourteenth-century Italian ‘defenders 
of poetry’ several humanists whose primary commitment was to Latin (such 
as Mussato at the beginning of the century and Salutati at the end) - as well as 

73 Poetrie in Chaucer’s HF , line 1001, refers to classical myth. The sense of ‘myth’ or ‘fable’ seems to be 
used more sceptically in The Squire’s Tale , line 206, where ‘thise olde poetries’ are aligned with ‘fan- 
tasies’ (line 205) and ‘olde geestes’ (line 21 1). Trevisa equates poetrie with feyninge and mawmetrie (‘idol- 
atry’) in his translation of the Polychronicon , 11, p. 279 — and it is associated with popular ‘errour’ in his 
version of Bartholomaeus (BL, MS Add. 27944, fo. i8oa/b, cited in the MED). 

74 De Consolatione 1. pr. 1. 75 Minnis and Scott (1991), p. 122. 

76 Aquinas, Scriptum super libros Sententiarum 1 prol. a. 5, ad 3 — quoted in Witt (1977), p. 540 ii. 7. 

77 Minnis and Scott (1991), pp. 209 and n. 39, 122 and n. 29, 210— 11 and nn. 43—5. 

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authors like Petrarch and Boccaccio whose work was in bodi Latin and the 

The contribution of several Italian Dominicans to die debate about the 
status of poetry is a feature of the period that deserves some attention. 78 
Amongst these were Giovannino of Mantua who exchanged letters with 
Mussato on this subject in 1316 and Giovanni Dominici who in 1405 
addressed his attack on classical humanism to Salutati. 79 The Dominicans 
were probably drawn into the debate through their inheritance of Aquinas’s 
brand of Aristotelianism and a concern to defend the supremacy of theology 
as a discipline. They also, perhaps, had an eye to their own considerable 
investment in the expansion of lay literacy - an investment which, as we have 
seen, was noted by one of the most vocal ‘defenders of poetry’, Boccaccio 
(in Decameron vn, 1). 

A crucial text that was often cited in the course of this argument is the 
passage at the beginning of Boethius’s De Consolatione, where Lady Philosophy 
denounces the Muses as scenicas meretriculas — ‘tragical harlots’ (in the seven- 
teenth-century translation). Thus, around 1330, the earliest hostile critic of 
Dante, the Dominican Guido Vernani, begins his attack (which is primarily 
against the Monarchic i) by characterising the poet of the Commedia as a decep- 
tively poisonous vessel whose attractive and eloquent exterior was likely to lead 
studious souls away from the truth by means of ‘sweet siren songs’ - songs 
which Vernani explicitly associates with the kind of ‘poetic fantasies and 
fictions’ that Boethius’s Philosophy had denounced as scenicas meretriculas , 80 The 
Boethian passage was considered important enough for Petrarch to reinterpret 
it more favourably to poetry in the Invective contra Medicum &l and for Boccaccio 
to return to it several times. In Book xiv, chapter 20 of his Genealogie Deorum 
Gentilium , Boccaccio is concerned to distinguish at some length between the 
solitary, contemplative Muse who ‘dwells in laurel groves near the Castalian 
spring’ and, on the other hand, the kind of performing artiste ‘who is seduced 
by disreputable comic poets to mount the stage, where for a fee she calmly 
exhibits herself to loungers in low compositions’. He concludes that when 
Boethius called the Muses ‘harlots of the stage’ ( scenicas meretriculas again), he 
was speaking only of ‘theatrical muses’. 82 

This last distinction seems to have mattered so much to Boccaccio that he 

78 Curtius (1953), pp. 217-18 and 226-7. 

79 On the exchanges between Giovannino and Mussato, see Dazzi (1 964), pp. 1 1 o— 1 5 and 191 — 5. The 
text of Dominici’s treatise is Lucula Noctis and the best account of his controversy with Salutati is in 
Witt (1977). 

80 For the relevant part of the De Reprobatione Monarcbiae see Matteini (1958), p. 93, lines 7—23. The 
‘probable’ date of composition is between 1327 and 1334 (ibid., p. 33 n. 5). 

81 Petrarch, /Vw, ed. Martellotti, pp. 658— 61. 82 Translated (irresistibly) by Osgood (1956), pp. 95— 6. 

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Literature in Italian, French and English 


reproduced it in Iris last major work, the vernacular commentary on Dante 
(1373-4), at a point where he is also engaging in an extensive humanistic 
defence of poetry. 83 In itself it was nothing particularly new: Mussato had 
employed it in a letter some time before 1309, where he was concerned gener- 
ally to make high claims for the ‘fictions of poets’ whilst condemning their the- 
atrical equivalent ( ctiones scenice), as, he acknowledges, Augustine had done. 84 
The distinction, in Mussato’s case, may seem a little odd, coming from the 
author of a Senecan tragedy ( Ecineris ) but he probably intended his play to be 
declaimed from a pulpit rather than acted on a stage. There was, it seems, only 
a certain class of lounger before whom Mussato’s Muse would exhibit 
herself. 85 

The jettisoning of theatre by the humanistic defenders of poetry is an inter- 
esting manoeuvre - yet theatre itself (ironically, at this time still substantially 
religious and moral in its subject-matter) appears to have survived. 86 So also 
did an interest in performance (however ‘disreputable’ or ‘low’), on the part of 
some of the period’s authors - as is evident, for example, in Boccaccio’s own 
Frate Cipolla (the village Cicero of Decameron vi, 10) or Chaucer’s Miller, who 
follows the illustrious Knight with the voice of a villain from the stage. 87 

The capacity of performance and orality to complicate the terms of this ele- 
vated literary debate can be demonstrated by the contrasting appearances of 
Orpheus, the poet par excellence, in two texts by these two closely related writers: 
Book xiv of Boccaccio’s Genealogie (of the 1360s) and Chaucer’s House of Fame 
(of the late 1370s). For when, in the latter poem, Orpheus appears on the 
fapade of the Castle of Fame, he does not do so as the ‘earliest of the theo- 
logians, prompted by the Divine mind’ or one of the ‘holy men who have sung 
divine mysteries in exalted notes’, as is the case in Boccaccio’s Genealogie (xiv, 
8 and 16). 88 Instead, Chaucer’s Orpheus is, here at least, a performer, heading 
a line of musicians, minstrels, entertainers and illusionists, and linked to them 
by the poem’s use of the words craft and craftely, which in this passage cover a 
wide semantic field from high skill to low cunning. 89 His portrayal could even 
be an oblique tribute to the English Orfeo, and hence to the persistence of 
romance - another ‘low’ genre which somehow outlived the disapproval of the 
humanists. 90 

Such complications may act as a reminder that although the debate about 
the status of poetry, fiction and performance involved serious issues, it could 
at times be conducted in a playful way. The Dominican ‘enemies of poetry’ 

83 See Boccaccio, Esposi^iom, ed. Padoan, i. Litt. 1 1 1. 108— 1 1 (pp. 42—3). 

84 In Ep. vii, to Giovanni da Vigonza, in Dazzi (1964), esp. p. 1 82 (Italian trans.). 85 Ibid., pp. 84—5 . 

86 Vince (1989) and Simon (1991). 87 CT, 1, line 3124. 88 Osgood (1956), pp. 44—6 and 76. 

89 HE, lines 1203, 1213, 1220 and 1267. 

90 Stevens (1973), Ramsay (1983) and Bennett (1986), ch. 5, for romances. 

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2 7° 


allowed diemselves on occasion some flourishes of wit - for instance, when 
Giovannino of Mantua allegorises the poet’s crown (and by implication his 
adversary Mussato’s own laurels) as ‘circling around die variety of things and 
concerning itself solely with diem, whilst remaining as far as possible from the 
truth ’. 91 They also on occasion appear genially to subvert dieir case in the 
process of presenting it - as Dominici does by quoting classical authors to 
support his argument for ignoring them, or by playing upon his adversary’s 
name ( Coluccio ) in the tide of his odierwise not very brilliant Lucula Noctis ? 2 
Thus Dante’s address to his audience, which introduces a very different comic 
conflict might perhaps also serve to describe the argument about poetry, liter- 
ature and the uses of the vernacular in the century that followed him: 

O tu che leggi, udirai nuovo ludo 

(Reader, here’s a strange new game ) 93 

91 Dazzi (1964), p. 113 (my trans.). 92 The pun is pointed out by Hay and Law (1989), p. 295. 
93 Inf. xxn, line 1 1 8 (my trans.). 

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Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 

CHAPTER 13 (a) 


W. Mark Ormrod 

the period of English history between 1307 and 1377 was one of striking and 
often violent contrasts. The great famines of 1315-22 and the Black Death of 
1348-9 brought to an end the demographic and economic expansion of the 
twelfth and thirteenth centuries and precipitated enormous changes in the 
structure of society. The advent of long-term warfare with Scodand and 
France created virtually unprecedented military, administrative and fiscal 
burdens which brought the English state and its subjects into more regular 
contact and more frequent political conflict. The increasing complexities of 
government were reflected in the development of a more refined judicial 
system and the emergence of parliament as a taxative and legislative assembly. 
Above all, these changes focused attention on the person of the king and 
required of him a greater sensitivity, subdety and flexibility than ever before. 

Much of the political agenda of the fourteenth century had been set during 
the reign of Edward I. In the 1 290s Edward had been drawn into war on three 
fronts: in Wales, where his earlier conquests continued to arouse resentment 
and rebellion; in Scodand, where his attempts to resolve the succession dispute 
culminated in a full-scale war; and in France, where his refusal to accept Philip 
IV’s claims to feudal suzerainty over the duchy of Aquitaine produced an 
inconclusive round of hostilities between 1294 and 1298. The cost of these 
wars had been immense, and on two occasions the king had been forced to 
reissue Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forests as a means of placating 
political opposition to his fiscal and military policies. Even before this, 
however, Edward had acknowledged die necessity of abandoning some of the 
more controversial aspects of royal policy. On the eve of the French war in 
1 294 he had called off the general eyre, a special judicial commission sent out 
periodically to tour the shires, hearing pleas and making more general enquiries 
into the state of local administration. The eyre had always been seen as a major 
threat to provincial rights of self-government, and although it was abandoned 

2 73 

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principally on administrative grounds, the political implications of die move 
were obvious enough. If Edward’s successors chose to continue his wars, they 
too would have to offer concessions in return for their subjects’ continued 
moral and material support. Herein lay die greatest political challenge of the 
fourteenth century. 

Edward II was not the man to deal effectively with such a challenge. 
Although he had the physical presence and athletic qualities that were often 
seen as attributes of a successful king, his pursuit of personal gratification over 
and above political stability proved disastrous. Undoubtedly his greatest 
problem lay in his choice of friends. Having ‘favourites’ was a common fault 
of medieval kings, but having homosexual relationships with them was quite 
another. At the coronation in 1308, the king’s closest associate, Piers Gaveston, 
was actually given formal precedence over tire new queen, Isabella of France. 
Nor did Edward show any real sign of reform after Gaveston’s violent death 
in 1312: by 1317 another group of favourites emerged, led by Hugh Audley, 
Roger Amory and William Montague; and in the early 1320s the king lavished 
tides, estates and honours on perhaps the most controversial of all his friends, 
Hugh Despenser the younger. This obsessive favouritism threatened the polit- 
ical process by restricting access to the court and excluding die king’s natural 
counsellors, the high nobility, from their influence over military, diplomatic 
and administrative policy. It may be that Edward had an ideological as well as 
a personal animosity towards his barons: certainly, his interest in the legend of 
the Holy Oil of St Thomas was a striking foretaste of royalist ideas more 
usually associated with Richard II. 1 Whatever his motives, however, Edward’s 
personal judgements fundamentally upset die political equilibrium, producing 
civil war and finally precipitating his fall from power. 

Edward III, who succeeded prematurely to his fadier’s throne in 1327, was 
a very different king. In many ways, indeed, his character and style of monar- 
chy can be seen as conscious reactions to diose of his predecessor. Edward 
fitted perfecdy into the contemporary image of kingship. He was a conven- 
tional Christian, an enthusiastic supporter of the cult of chivalry and a dutiful 
patron of the arts. In fact, Edward seems consciously to have used his casdes, 
his court ceremonies and even his clodiing as a means of enhancing the mys- 
tique and majesty of his office: the new palace that he created at Windsor in 
the mid-fourteenth century has righdy been called the Versailles of its age. 2 
Above all, Edward excelled at die arts of war. During his Scottish campaigns 
in die 13 30s he rapidly discovered that he had a taste and a talent for military 
leadership, developing skills that he was to exploit to the full during the early 
stages of the Hundred Years War. Edward’s ambitions extended a good deal 

1 Phillips (1986), pp. 196— 201. 2 Brown (1963), p. 163. 

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England: Edward II and Edward III 

2 75 

further than the battlefield, and he may also be credited with a remarkably 
successful domestic policy that considerably enhanced the authority of the 
crown. 3 But such ambitions were carefully tailored to accommodate the inter- 
ests and enthusiasms of die political community and were therefore carried 
dirough widi a high degree of support. During the middle decades of the four- 
teenth century, the king’s honour became a byword among his subjects and his 
enemies alike: Edward III was a man who could be trusted. 4 

Of all the themes running dirough the reigns of Edward II and Edward III, 
the most significant is probably that of war. Although military campaigns were 
only sporadic, the Anglo-Scottish and Anglo-French hostilities of this period 
can be said to have affected almost every aspect of political life. The principal 
area of activity until die 1330s was Scotland. By 1305, there was every indica- 
tion that Edward I had carried through a successful conquest of the northern 
kingdom, and that Scotland would become a mere adjunct of the realm of 
England. But that expectation was already dashed before Edward’s death by 
the decision of Robert Bruce, earl of Carrick, to lay claim to the Scottish 
throne and lead an armed uprising against the occupying English forces. 
Edward I died on his way north to put down this insurrection, leaving to his 
son the daunting task of countering the Scottish resurgence. The political 
debate surrounding the patronage of Gaveston and the parlous state of royal 
finances put a stop to military activity for some years. Consequently, Bruce’s 
forces were able to recover control north of the Forth and make serious 
inroads into Lothian and the Borders. In the summer of 1314 Edward II 
marched north with one of the largest English armies ever seen in Scotland, 
only to suffer a deeply humiliating defeat at Bannockburn on 24 June. 

Bruce now posed a major threat to English security. In 1315 his brother, 
Edward, invaded the north of Ireland and attempted to capitalise on the ten- 
sions between Irish chieftains and English administrators in dais important 
outpost of the Plantagenet empire. There was even a plan for a great Celtic 
confederation drawing support from Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Although 
this came to nothing, the Scottish raids into the north of England continued 
to cause considerable hardship. Without adequate military protection, the 
inhabitants of this region were driven to make private agreements with the 
enemy: between 13 11 and 1327, for example, the people of County Durham 
paid out between £4,000 and £5,500 in indemnities to Bruce and his support- 
ers. 5 After another disastrous campaign in 1322, the earl of Carlisle, Andrew 
Harclay, actually defected to the Scottish side. Harclay’s subsequent conviction 

3 Ormrod (1987b). 4 See in particular the comments of le Bel, Chronique , 11, pp. 65—7. 

5 Scammell (1958), pp. 393, 401. 

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and execution for treason ironically deprived Edward of the last vestiges of 
effective leadership in the north. Although he continued to deny the claims of 
Robert Bruce to the throne of an independent Scotland, the English king was 
now forced to play for time and concluded a thirteen-year truce in 1323. 

The deposition of Edward II and the assumption of power by Queen 
Isabella in 1 3 27 brought a distinct, though temporary, change in English policy 
towards Scotland. The truce technically lapsed on tire fall of Edward II, and 
Bruce immediately resumed his cross-border raids. A campaign led by die 
queen’s lover, Roger Mortimer, proved a strategic and financial fiasco and die 
English were forced to sue for peace. By die treaty of 1328, the government of 
Edward III recognised both the independence of Scodand and the monarchy 
of Robert I. The peace was to be secured by the marriage of Robert’s heir, 
David, with die English Princess Joan. Isabella and Mortimer gained some 
satisfaction from Bruce’s promise to pay £20,000 as compensation for the 
damage inflicted on nordiern England. Otherwise, the treaty was an unmiti- 
gated disaster for the Plantagenet regime, the diplomatic equivalent of die 
earlier military defeat at Bannockburn. 

When Edward III ousted his mother and Mortimer and assumed direct 
control of the realm in 1330, it was natural to suppose that he would rescind 
the treaty of 1328 and revert to the policies of his grandfather and father, par- 
ticularly since the death of Robert Bruce in 1329 had left the Scottish throne 
occupied by a child. Edward had to tread somewhat warily, for few of the 
English aristocracy showed any great interest in another northern war. But the 
determination of a small group of northern barons to recover die land they 
had once held in the Scottish Lowlands, and die emergence of one of their 
number, Edward Balliol, as a new pretender to die Scottish dirone, allowed die 
English king the opportunity he had probably been seeking to reopen hostil- 
ities. In 1333 the government offices were moved to York in order to co- 
ordinate the new offensive, and between that year and 1336 the king led no 
fewer than five separate campaigns into Scotland. Edward agreed to recognise 
Balliol as king of Scotland, but required him to perform liege homage and to 
cede eight of the Lowland shires into English hands. To secure the new 
English regime nordi of the Tweed, however, required a strong and perma- 
nent military presence. From 1336 Edward was increasingly distracted by 
affairs in France, and after 1337 the remaining English garrisons in the Borders 
were gradually ousted by the Bruce party. Once more, the war declined into a 
series of border raids from which neidier side derived any great strategic or 
diplomatic advantage. 

This stalemate was broken only by an unexpected event in 1346, when David 
II was defeated and captured at the battle of Neville’s Cross. The English 
negotiators naturally attempted to use their strong position to secure additional 

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England: Edward II and Edward III 

2 77 

diplomatic concessions, and for a time it seemed that the childless David II was 
actually prepared to adopt one of Edward Ill’s sons as heir to the Scottish 
throne. 6 The treaty eventually concluded at Berwick in 1357, however, did little 
more than set out the terms of David’s ransom, and had nothing to say about 
the deeper issues of English suzerainty over Scotland. Desultory negotiations 
continued towards a more final peace, and the idea of a Plantagenet succes- 
sion was still being mooted in the 1360s. But die treaty of Berwick marked the 
effective end of Edward Ill’s ambitions in Scotland. As so often before, the 
king’s attention had been diverted by the greater issues facing him in France. 

The story of die Anglo-French wars follows a very different course, though 
one that often interconnects with die Anglo-Scottish struggle. In 1307 Edward 
II succeeded not only to the kingdom of England and the lordship of Ireland 
but also to the duchy of Aquitaine and the county of Pondiieu. Aquitaine was 
die last remaining element of the once enormous continental empire con- 
trolled by Henry II and his sons, and it dierefore had great symbolic and strate- 
gic significance. By die Treaty of Paris of 1259, Henry III had been required 
to renounce his claims to other continental lands and to acknowledge diat he 
owed liege homage to the king of France for Aquitaine itself. Edward I had 
disliked this idea, but had found no successful alternative to it: the treaty of 
1303, which concluded the Anglo-French war of 1 294-8, had simply restored 
die status quo ante helium. Rather more important for the future had been the 
decision to bind die two dynasties in closer accord by arranging the marriage 
of the prince of Wales with Princess Isabella, daughter of Philip IV. 

When this marriage eventually took place in 1308, Prince Edward had 
become king of England. Edward took advantage of his wedding trip to 
Boulogne to pay homage for Aquitaine to his new father-in-law. But the dynas- 
tic amity proved superficial and tieeting. The insults suffered by the young 
Queen Isabella at die hands of Gaveston, coupled widi the collapse of the 
Anglo-French commission set up to resolve territorial disputes on die borders 
of Aquitaine, produced some sharp exchanges between Paris and Westminster. 
When Edward II travelled to Amiens in 1320 to be received as duke of 
Aquitaine by his brother-in-law, Philip V, die French councillors began to raise 
awkward questions about points of feudal status. Edward impatiently 
announced to the waiting king diat he was prepared to do homage but not to 
perform the special oath of fealty that would have made him the liege man of 
the Capetian monarch. 7 Had Edward’s position in England and Gascony been 
more secure, such an aggressive approach might have been successful. But 
when Charles IV precipitated military conflict by seizing the duchy of 

6 Duncan (1988). 7 Pole-Stewart (1926), pp. 414— i 

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Aquitaine in 1324, the weaknesses in Edward’s position became plain. The 
insensitive nature of the English administration in Aquitaine had created many 
underlying tensions, and one of the most powerful of the Gascon lords, 
Amanieu of Albret, defected to the French side during the ensuing war of 
Saint-Sardos. 8 For this and other reasons, the fighting proved short-lived, and 
a form of peace was quickly arranged in the summer of 1325. 

At first, die 1325 compromise seemed encouraging. Edward II agreed to 
hand over Aquitaine to his eldest son, who promptly travelled to France to pay 
homage to his Capetian uncle. This arrangement helped avoid the humiliating 
spectacle of a king of England performing obeisance to a king of France. 
Unfortunately, its permanent application depended on the availability of a 
Plantagenet heir-apparent. When Edward III succeeded to the dirone of 
England in January 1327, he had no son on whom to devolve his French lands. 
Consequently, when Charles IV died in 1328, Edward had little choice but to 
perform homage in person to the new king, Philip VI. In fact, such a submis- 
sion was probably regarded as a sound diplomatic move. The main preoccupa- 
tion of the English negotiators in the late 1320s was to restore the boundaries 
of the duchy of Aquitaine as defined in the Treaty of Paris. The best way to 
win back the disputed territories, according to received opinion in die 1320s, 
was to perform homage for them and begin diplomatic proceedings for their 
formal transfer. It was in dais spirit that Edward III finally agreed in 1331 to 
acknowledge that die oadi given in 1329 should be considered as full liege 
homage. 9 Clearly, there were few people in England in the early 1330s who con- 
templated, let alone relished, the prospect of a ‘Hundred Years War’. 

It is now widely accepted that the origins of Edward Ill’s war with Philip VI 
lay in the failure of diplomatic talks over the contested territories, the growing 
realisation that they would only be won through force of arms, and the convic- 
tion that the future security of Aquitaine could be guaranteed only if it were 
released from feudal subjection to the French monarchy and declared a sove- 
reign state under the sole control of its king-duke. 10 It is undoubtedly in this 
context that we can best explain Edward Ill’s decision to lay claim to the 
throne of France. When the male line of the Capetian dynasty had failed in 
1328, Edward’s government had formally asserted his right to die throne by 
descent dirough his mother, the sister of the deceased Charles IV. But the 
claim had not been pressed, and nothing more was heard on the subject until 
the new Valois king, Philip VI, announced his intention to seize the duchy of 
Aquitaine in 1337. Even then, it took nearly three years before Edward perma- 
nently assumed die tide of king of France early in 1340. In the intervening 

8 Vale (1990), pp. 164—74, 240. 9 Ibid., p. 50 n. 12. 

10 Jones (1989), pp. 238—43, 245—6, provides a brief summary of the historiography. 

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England: Edward II and Edward III 


period Edward had tried to follow the policies of his grandfather and build up 
an anti-French confederation of states in Germany and tire Low Countries. 
When he sought to add Flanders to that network, he had to recognise the 
awkward fact that tire county was a vassal state of France. By assuming the 
French royal title himself, Edward offered the inhabitants a convenient means 
of avoiding this conflict of interests. At first, then, there was little or no indica- 
tion that Edward intended to use his new title as anything more than a diplo- 
matic weapon. The Anglo-French conflict of 1337-40 was a territorial, not a 
dynastic, dispute. 

After 1341, however, the position changed dramatically. Edward was able to 
intervene in tire succession dispute in the duchy of Brittany by asserting his 
French royal title and taking the homage of one of the rival candidates, John 
de Montfort. The range of his influence within France was thus considerably 
extended. At the same time, plans were set in hand for the relief of Gascony, 
which had been left to fend for itself since the French seizure of 1337. Finally, 
a direct attack on Philip VI was planned as retaliation for a series of hostile 
French raids on tire south coast of England. These various initiatives culmi- 
nated in the English triumph at Crecy in 1346 and the capture of die town of 
Calais in 1347. Such victories considerably strengthened Edward’s hand and 
encouraged him to extend the range of his diplomatic demands. By the early 
1 3 50s, he was claiming jurisdiction not only over Aquitaine but also over 
Poitou, Anjou, Maine and Touraine; and in 1356 he took the tide of duke of 
Normandy, dropped by his predecessors since 1259. Some of this diplomatic 
posturing may have been intended as a personal insult to the Valois royal 
family, whose members held titles in those regions. But tire lands in question 
were also part of tire old Angevin territories that had been lost and renounced 
under King John and Henry III. Encouraged by his successes and by the need 
to provide for his fast-growing family of sons, Edward III now seems to have 
embarked on a project to rebuild the lost continental empire of his ancestors. 11 
When John II of France was captured during the Black Prince’s great victory 
at Poitiers in 1356, that dream looked set to become reality. 

As in die case of David II of Scotland, however, the negotiations for the 
release of John II proved rather more difficult than the English had calculated. 
The weakness of the French state encouraged Edward to press for highly 
advantageous terms: in 1359 he demanded a huge ransom of nearly £700,000 
and complete sovereign control over a great swathe of territory running unin- 
terrupted from Calais to the Pyrenees. When these proposals were refused, 
Edward launched a further campaign ostensibly for die complete conquest of 
France. It was only when this also proved unsuccessful that the English were 

11 Le Patourel (1958); Ormrod (1987a). 

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28 o 


induced to make a compromise, worked out in the Treaty of Bretigny of 1 3 60. 
John II was to be released for a ransom of £500,000, while Edward would give 
up his claim to the French throne and have sovereign control over a much* 
enlarged duchy of Aquitaine. Interpretations of this agreement vary, but there 
are strong grounds for thinking drat Edward regarded it only as an interim 
measure. 12 Although he ceased to use die tide of king of France, he refused to 
make a formal statement of renunciation until all the promised lands were 
delivered into English control. His continued interventions in the affairs of 
Brittany and Flanders also suggest that he had little intention of honouring all 
the terms of the treaty. The death of John II and die succession of the more 
aggressive Charles V in 1364 furdier increased the likelihood of war. Ironically, 
however, neither side can have envisaged the dramatic shift of fortunes that 
was to occur after 1369. 

In 1362 Edward III had invested his eldest son with die tide of prince of 
Aquitaine and set him up as the head of an independent administration at 
Bordeaux. A resident ruler was an unfamiliar phenomenon in south*west 
France, and the prince’s policies were not calculated to endear him to his new 
subjects. In the late 1 3 60s a number of lords tried to challenge his right to raise 
taxes by appealing to the parlement of Paris. When the prince refused Charles 
V’s summons to attend that tribunal, the Valois regime reasserted its feudal 
claims over Aquitaine and declared the duchy forfeit. The English state was not 
slow to take up the challenge, and major military preparations were put in hand 
from 1369. But the ensuing war proved a disaster for the English. Allies inside 
and outside France fell away with alarming alacrity, and within a few years tire 
Black Prince’s regime was driven out of greater Aquitaine and confined to a 
narrow coastal strip between Bordeaux and Bayonne. John of Gaunt’s French 
campaign of 1373 brought no strategic advantage and simply ran up further 
debts for the already exhausted exchequer. In 1375 the English were forced into 
a temporary truce at Bruges, and the reign of Edward III ended in bitter inter- 
nal wranglings over the collapse of the war and more general public concern 
about an imminent French invasion. 

The English experience of war in the fourteenth century varied considerably 
across time and space. Some parts of the country suffered great hardships as 
a result of enemy depredations. In 1322 a Scottish army penetrated as far as 
Lancaster and Preston in the west and Beverley in the east, laying waste the 
countryside as it went. Even the presence of soldiers sent in to defend tire 
region could be a mixed blessing: Easby Abbey in Yorkshire claimed £200 in 
damages committed by troops billetted there after the victory at Neville’s 

12 Le Patourel (i 960 ). 

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England: Edward II and Edward III 


Cross. 13 From time to time tire south coast was subject to dramatic and 
destructive French raids: the attack on Southampton late in 1338 left many 
inhabitants destitute and put a stop to trade in the port for a whole year. 
However, die naval victory at Sluys in 1340, reinforced by die defeat of a 
Castilian fleet off Winchelsea in 1350, went a long way to establishing English 
primacy in the Channel, and despite occasional rumours - some of them 
deliberately encouraged by the crown - there were few further threats to 
national security before the 1370s. While Scottish raids were never entirely 
eliminated, the southern and midland regions of England therefore had no 
direct knowledge of the hardships of occupation or devastation. The immu- 
nity of the most fertile and populous parts of England from foreign attack 
undoubtedly helps to explain why the crown was able to mobilise its resources 
so effectively and fight a continental war for so long. 

English armies in the fourteenth century were small-scale affairs: even the 
32,000 men assembled for the siege of Calais in 1346-7 represented a fraction 
of 1 per cent of the total population. However, such bald statistics under-rate 
tire true extent of involvement in warfare: not only was there simultaneous 
campaigning on different fronts, but there were also considerable numbers 
involved in die shipping and general servicing of armies. In fact, at peak 
periods it is possible drat as many as 10 per cent of all adult males were 
employed on some form of military service. 14 To raise such forces was a major 
administrative exercise. From the time of Edward I die state rapidly discov- 
ered that traditional military obligations were inadequate for filling up the 
ranks of royal armies, and a period of sometimes controversial experimenta- 
tion set in. For most of the first half of die fourteenth century the crown con- 
tinued to use feudal summonses as a means of providing a proportion of the 
cavalry forces needed in its Scottish armies. 15 Service in France, however, was 
a different matter, and by the 1340s die various ranks of the cavalry were being 
raised dirough voluntary contracts in which the crown promised to pay daily 
wages and various other expenses and liabilities incurred during active service. 
In order to secure infantry forces, the crown initially depended on a system of 
conscription. 16 In the mid- 1320s, indeed, it seemed diat the obligation set upon 
all adult males to arm themselves and defend die locality might be extended so 
diat arrayed troops could fight outside their native regions at the expense of 
dieir own communities. This scheme was abandoned after 1327 pardy under 
public pressure brought to bear in parliament and pardy because of a change 
in the methods of warfare which reduced the importance of infantry forces 

13 Thompson (1933), pp. 329-32. 

14 Postan (1964), pp. 35—6 (where the estimate is based on the post-plague population). 

15 Prestwich (1984). 16 Powicke (1962), pp. 1 18— 212. 

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and increased that of light cavalry and mounted archers. A short-lived attempt 
in the 1340s to introduce a system for the local provision of such forces also 
collapsed, and thereafter there was a general agreement that all troops serving 
on offensive campaigns should be recruited by voluntary contract and paid 
direcdy by die crown. 

The main consequence of diese changes in the organisation of English 
armies was a huge increase in the financial burden on the state. Edward I’s 
French war of 1294-8 has been calculated to have cost some £750,000. The 
bill for the war of Saint-Sardos was considerably smaller, at somewhere over 
£65,000; but during die first stage of the Hundred Years War in 1337-41, 
Edward III ran up expenditure and debts of at least £800,000, and perhaps as 
muchas£i million. Although the costs of war declined again in the 1350s, they 
rose to at least £635,000 in the period 1 369-75. 1 It was only in the mid- 1320s, 
when Edward II was enjoying the spoils of victory against his aristocratic 
opponents, that the crown could afford to pay most of its military expenses 
out of ordinary income. Otherwise, it depended heavily on the loans offered 
at first by Italian banking companies and later by groups of English merchants. 
And to provide security for these loans, it was forced to raise large amounts of 
extraordinary taxation. The levies on which Edward II and Edward III drew 
to support their wars fell into three principal categories: compulsory seizures 
of foodstuffs, wool and other goods; direct taxes negotiated with die laity and 
clergy; and indirect taxes on overseas trade. 

Purveyance had begun as a means of supplying victuals to die royal house- 
hold but had developed under Edward I into a form of national tax intended 
to feed - and sometimes also to equip - royal armies. Purveyors were supposed 
to pay for die goods that they took, but were frequently accused of offering 
sums well below the market price and of paying not in cash but in credit notes, 
usually in die form of notched wooden sticks called tallies. Purveyance was a 
regional rather than a national phenomenon, usually confined to the grain- 
producing areas of the south and die east midlands. It is for this reason, 
perhaps, that die occasional rumours of armed uprising reported in official and 
unofficial sources ultimately proved unfounded: frustration about the inequal- 
ities of purveyance could be vented more easily on one’s own neighbours than 
on die state. 18 Neverdieless, diere were times - as in the mid- 13 10s and die late 
1 3 30s - when die burden of purveyance, coupled with poor harvests and (in 
the latter case) an acute shortage of coin, produced widespread and intense eco- 
nomic hardship among die peasantry. Between 1337 and 1347 Edward III also 
attempted - with varying degrees of success - to make compulsory seizures of 

17 Prestwich (1972), p. 175; Fryde (1979), p. 94; Waugh (1991), p. 213; Harriss (1975), pp. 327—40; 
Sherborne (1977), p. 140. 18 Maddicott (1987), pp. 299— 308, 337-51. 

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England: Edward II and Edward III 


wool in an attempt to provide security for the loans contracted wida die 
merchant community. Complaints about purveyance of victuals and wool 
became a regular feature of parliamentary business, and in 1351 die Commons 
were able to secure a major reduction in die quotas of grain, pulses and meat 
charged on the shire communities to support the new English garrison at 
Calais. 19 However, it was only in 1362, after the conclusion of peace, daat the 
crown was prepared to compromise its prerogative and restrict die practice of 
purveyance; until daat point, die purveyors were probably the most detested and 
feared of all the royal agents operating in die village communities of England. 

Purveyance is almost impossible to quantify in money terms; the income 
from direct taxation, by contrast, can be calculated wida some precision. 
Between 1307 and 1377 a remarkable total of £2,070,000 was raised by direct 
subsidies charged on the laity and clergy, with approximately £ 1 , 500,000 of this 
being collected between the start of Edward Ill’s hostilities with Philip VI in 
1337 and the truce of Bruges of 1375. 20 The exact distribution of dais burden 
is not easy to judge. Large numbers of the lower clergy were exempt from 
ecclesiastical tenths levied on income, and those who were liable to taxation 
were often treated sympathetically if they had problems meeting their charges. 
Lay subsidies were assessed not on income but on the value of moveable prop- 
erty, and until 1334 many households - perhaps even a majority - fell below 
the minimum assessment fixed for liability. In theory, then, the system of direct 
taxation was not unduly regressive. On die other hand, the sheer frequency of 
such levies and the corruption of the system by local administrators made it 
both controversial and economically disruptive. The tax base, which ought to 
have remained more or less constant, fluctuated wildly; and the overall decline 
in valuations between die 1290s and the 1330s strongly suggests either real 
hardship or deliberate deception - or perhaps both. In 1334 the government 
attempted to arrest this downward trend by abandoning individual assess- 
ments of households and negotiating block payments with local communities; 
the resulting system proved sufficiently popular with parliament that the 
quotas for this ‘fifteenth and tenth’ were used regularly for die rest of the four- 
teenth century and beyond. At the same time, however, the idea of minimum 
level of liability was dropped and a considerable number of poorer peasant 
families were apparently drawn into the taxation system. After the Black 
Death, when the population of England fell dramatically, the proportion of 
people paying taxes probably rose still further. Under these circumstances, it is 
not wholly surprising that the experimental poll tax launched in 1377 should 

19 Burley (1958), p. 52. 

20 All figures for tax revenues are taken from Ormrod (1990b), pp. 204—7, and Ormrod (1991), pp. 


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have chosen heads of population rather than households as the basis for 
taxation. When Edward III lay dying, direct taxation seemed set to become a 
universal obligation in English society. 

Indirect taxation also developed considerably during dais period. In 1 307 die 
crown had two permanent sources of revenue from overseas trade: die 
‘ancient custom’ on wool exports, first imposed in 1275, and die ‘new custom’ 
of 1303, payable by alien merchants only, and assessed on exports of wool, 
imports of wine and imports and exports of clodi and other forms of mer- 
chandise. Edward II was forced to drop die new custom between 13 11 and 
1322, and die revenue from overseas trade, which had averaged £1 5,500 in the 
first five years of his reign, shrank to just £7,000 in the financial year 13 1 5—16. 
From 1317, however, die crown began to experiment with forced loans and 
extraordinary subsidies on the export of wool. At first, die effects were fairly 
modest, and between 1316 and 1336 the profits of indirect taxation averaged 
only £13,500 a year. But die situation changed dramatically after die opening 
of die Hundred Years War. In 1336 Edward III negotiated an additional levy 
of £1 on every sack of wool exported from England. By 1342 the subsidy had 
risen to £2 per sack and was successively renewed in a series of interlocking 
grants that continued for the rest of Edward’s reign and beyond. The result 
was a phenomenal increase in revenue: between the start of the Hundred Years 
War and the truce of Bruges, the English crown raised nearly £2,275 ,000 from 
the duties on overseas trade, some 50 per cent more than the income from 
direct taxation over the same period. It was indeed in the customs houses of 
England that Edward Ill’s military fortunes were ultimately shaped. 

Not surprisingly, this new emphasis on indirect taxation had major political 
and economic consequences. As early as 1 297 it had been realised that die cost 
of exporting wool was passed back by the merchants to die producers in the 
form of lower market prices. When the wool subsidy became a permanent 
feature of the tax system, it became a matter of major concern diat it should 
be negotiated not simply with the merchants but also with the wool growers, 
whose natural representative forum was parliament. The native clodi industry 
also responded quickly to die new trade conditions, by consuming more and 
more raw wool and taking advantage of the much lower duties on the export 
of cloth to send an increasingly large number of its products to the markets of 
continental Europe. In this sense, indirect taxation affected just as wide a range 
of the English population as did direct taxation. And it is certainly no 
exaggeration to suggest that the transformation of die tax system in the mid- 
fourteenth century was one of the most important and far-reaching innova- 
tions in the institutional history of medieval England. 

The crown’s ability to tap the economic and financial resources of its subjects 
depended to a large extent on their co-operation. The fourteenth-century 

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England: Edward II and Edward III z 8 5 

English state had no standing army or police force; and while it had a large and 
highly organised staff to run the central administration, it had nothing even 
approaching a professional bureaucracy in the provinces. Consequently, the 
king depended on die active or passive consent of the political community. 
More especially, he depended on the aristocracy. The handful of earls and 
clutch of great barons who made up the high nobility in 1307 may have lacked 
the jurisdictional independence enjoyed by their counterparts in continental 
Europe, but diey were still the principal force in English politics. Their impor- 
tance was forcefully demonstrated after the new king recalled Piers Gaveston 
from the exile imposed by Edward I and bestowed on his friend the title of earl 
of Cornwall. On at least two occasions in 1308 the magnates, led by the earl of 
Lincoln, made formal protestations about the disturbed state of the realm, 
blaming Gaveston for the open contiicts that were breaking out at court and 
in the country. More ominous still was the formal distinction they drew 
between tire office and the person of the king: 

Homage and the oath of allegiance are more in respect of the crown than in respect 
of the king’s person and are more closely related to the crown than to the king’s person 
. . . When the king will not right a wrong and remove that which is hurtful to the people 
at large and prejudicial to the crown, and is so adjudged by the people, it behoves that 
the evil must be removed by constraint, for the king is bound by his oath to govern his 
people, and his lieges are bound to govern with him and in support of him . 21 

This idea was to be significantly absent from the arguments later put forward 
in defence of Edward IPs deposition. 22 Nevertheless, it says much for the 
sophistication - and tire boldness - of the magnates that they were able to 
articulate such an important point of political theory at such an early stage in 
English history. 

By 1309 the leadership of the baronial opposition had passed to the king’s 
first cousin, Thomas, earl of Lancaster. Lancaster, who had been much 
favoured by tire otherwise parsimonious Edward I, was the most powerful man 
in England after the king. He came increasingly to identify himself with Simon 
de Montfort, the leader of the baronial opposition to Henry III and it was for 
this reason, perhaps, that he extended tire basic demand for the exile of 
Gaveston into a more general call for political and administrative reform. In 
the parliament of February 1310, the king agreed to the appointment of 
twenty-one lords ordainers who were given comprehensive powers to enquire 
into and reform die government of the realm. Their proposals were officially 
adopted and promulgated in the autumn of 1 3 1 1 as the ‘N ew Ordinances’. The 

21 SDECH , p. 5 : ‘homagium et sacramentum ligiantiae potius sunt et vehementius ligant ratione 
coronae quam personae regis . . . quando rex errorem corrigere vel amovere non curat, quod coronae 
dampnosum et populo nocivum est, judicatum est quod error per asperitatem amoveatur, eo quod 
per sacramentum praestitum se [obligavit] regere populum, et ligii sui populum protegere secundum 
legem cum regis auxilio sunt astricti’. 22 Dunbabin (1988), pp. 496, 501, for further discussion. 

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Ordinances are in many ways a remarkable testimony to the strong tradition of 
baronial counsel and the highly technical nature of early fourteenth-century 
government. They placed some major restrictions on the king, insisting that 
important business such as the making of war, as well as certain royal prerog- 
atives such as the disposition of patronage and the alteration of the currency, 
should be undertaken only ‘by the common assent of die baronage, and that 
in parliament’. 23 But the essence of die Ordinances lay in die long, detailed and 
colourful charges against Gaveston, who was now to be ‘completely exiled as 
well from die kingdom of England, Scodand, Ireland and Wales as from the 
whole lordship of our lord the king overseas . . . forever [and] widiout ever 
returning’. 24 When the king refused to implement diis clause, certain of the 
ordainers took matters into dieir own hands and had Gaveston executed for 
treason in the summer of 1312. With their enemy thus removed, most of the 
earls and barons rapidly lost interest in the implementation of die Ordinances, 
and for two years the main political debate revolved around the dubious legal- 
ity of what Edward clearly regarded as Gaveston’s murder. 

It was only in the aftermath of Bannockburn that Lancaster was able to 
revive interest in the Ordinances and force the king to accept and implement 
the various clauses concerning administration and patronage. For some years 
the government seems to have been reasonably scrupulous in observing die 
new restrictions, and although Lancaster remained obdurately hostile to the 
court, a number of other leading figures, including the earls of Pembroke and 
Hereford, were encouraged back into the royal circle through grants of favour 
and a natural disposition to remain loyal to the king. In 1318a compromise was 
worked out in the so-called Treaty of Leake, which satisfied Lancaster’s 
demands for the continuation of the Ordinances but limited his influence on 
the council. Whether this arrangement could have provided a lasting 
settlement remains uncertain, for die king and his cousin were now divided as 
much on personal as on political issues. Within a few years, another dispute 
over the patronage of favourites was to provoke not just political friction but 
outright civil war. 

The Despensers were an old family long in royal service, and Hugh 
Despenser the elder was a courtier for much of Edward II’s reign. The family 
really came to prominence after the death of Gilbert de Clare, earl of 
Gloucester, at the batde of Bannockburn. The Clare inheritance was divided 
between the earl’s three sisters, the eldest of whom was the wife of Hugh 
Despenser the younger. In die years that followed, Despenser tried, through a 

23 SDECH , pp. 12, 13, 16: ‘par commun assent de son baronage, et ceo en parlement’. 

24 Ibid., p. 15; ‘de tout exilez, auxibien hors du roiaume Dengleterre, Descose, Dirlaunde, et de Gales, 

come de tote la seignurie nostre seignur le roi auxibien dela la mere ... a touz jours saunz james 


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England: Edward II and Edward III 287 

mixture of judicial proceedings, harassment and plain brute force, to establish 
complete control over the Clare estates in the Welsh Marches. By 1320 it was 
apparent that the king had become infatuated with Despenser, and the threat 
of another Gaveston loomed. Attempts to banish the elder and younger Hugh 
failed, and by die end of 1321 Lancaster had emerged at the head of a coali- 
tion of Marcher lords prepared to add military force to their political demands. 
Sieges were set up and skirmishes broke out both in the Marches and in north- 
ern England. In March 1322, however, the king defeated Lancaster’s army at 
Boroughbridge. The earl of Hereford died in the battle and Lancaster himself 
was executed shortly afterwards at Pontefract. There followed an extraordinary 
spectacle as Edward hounded, imprisoned and executed his enemies, seizing 
their estates and sharing the considerable spoils of war with the Despensers. 
Hugh Despenser the younger was now established as the richest magnate in 
England, with an income of approximately £7,000 a year. Meanwhile, the 
Statute of York of 1322 finally annulled the Ordinances and restored Edward 
to the plenitude of power. With his military, political and financial supremacy 
thus restored, the king was largely free to do as he wished. In the mid- 13 20s 
England was apparently moving towards a despotism. 

In the end, however, the regime of Edward II and the Despensers was 
bound to be destroyed by aristocratic opposition. In 1325 Queen Isabella was 
sent to France as escort to the young Prince Edward. It was probably in France 
that Isabella began her affair with Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, one of the 
Marcher rebels who had narrowly escaped death in the aftermath of 
Boroughbridge. They were joined by a number of lords and bishops, previ- 
ously loyal to Edward II, but by now alienated from the increasingly threat- 
ening Despenser regime. Among these was the king’s own half-brother, 
Edmund, earl of Kent. Encouraged by the support of the king of France and 
the count of Hainault, Isabella and Mortimer began plotting an invasion of 
England. When they landed at Orwell in Suffolk in September 1326 they found 
little or no effective opposition: the rapid defection of figures such as tire king’s 
other half-brother, the earl of Norfolk, and Edward’s own flight into South 
Wales, enabled the queen to take over the governance of the realm with hardly 
a fight. The punishments that followed drew comparisons with Edward’s own 
policies after Boroughbridge. The Despensers and their ally the earl of 
Arundel were hunted down and killed, and the king himself was imprisoned 
first at Kenilworth and then at Berkeley Castle, where he died in mysterious 
circumstances in September 1327. 25 

The abdication of Edward II (as it was formally termed) and the accession 

25 For the unlikely story of Edward II’s escape to the continent see Cuttino and Lyman ( 1978 ); Fryde 
( T 979)> PP- 20 ^ 6 . 

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of Edward III were officially proclaimed throughout England in January 
1327. 26 Most members of political society probably acknowledged that the 
deposition (for such it was) had been a necessity and were disinclined to ques- 
tion too deeply the constitutional validity of their actions. The succession had 
been maintained, even if it had been unexpectedly speeded up. Furthermore, 
the new regime went out of its way to pander to public opinion. Petitions were 
despatched to the pope requesting the canonisation of the political martyr, 
Thomas of Lancaster, and the latter’s brother, Elenry, was restored to his title 
and estates and appointed head of a regency council for die new boy-king. For 
a time, such measures helped to disguise the fact that Isabella and Mortimer 
had ambitions not unlike those of the discredited Despensers. Mortimer’s 
assumption of die tide of earl of March in September 1328 provoked much 
hostility, and precipitated a brief and unsuccessful armed rising led by Henry 
of Lancaster and the royal uncles of Norfolk and Kent. The arrest and execu- 
tion of Edmund of Kent early in 1330 made it clear that the minority regime 
was every bit as arbitrary and threatening as that of the Despensers. 

In October 1330, the young Edward III made the first in die series of deci- 
sive personal interventions diat were to punctuate his active political career. 
Secretly entering Nottingham Casde by night, he took his mother and her lover 
by surprise and promptly ordered die arrest and trial of the earl of March. 
Mortimer was taken off to London, where he was arraigned before the lords in 
parliament and condemned to death and the forfeiture of all his tides and 
estates. Edward then set about rebuilding an aristocracy much depleted in 
numbers and morale. Richard Fitzalan was restored to the earldom of Arundel 
in 1 3 30, and the lapsed earldoms of Devon and Pembroke were revived in 1 3 3 5 
and 13 39. In the parliament of March 1337 die king created his infant son duke 
of Cornwall and appointed no fewer than six new earls, with the specified 
intention of replenishing the ranks of the high aristocracy in advance of the 
impending war with the French. Hopes of a lasting settlement between crown 
and nobility ran high. 

The real success of such measures is difficult to judge. As a young man, 
Edward III tended to devote most of his time and much of his patronage to 
a small group of household knights led by the son of one of Edward II’s own 
favourites, William Montague. This group was reasonably acceptable to the 
existing nobility because it included at least two men drawn from prominent 
aristocratic families: Henry of Grosmont, son of die earl of Lancaster, and 
William Bohun, brodier of the earl of Hereford. Where Edward failed, iron- 
ically, was in his expressed aim of uniting die whole of the baronage in pursuit 
of foreign war. Aristocratic involvement in the Scottish campaigns of the 

26 SDECH, p. 38. 

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England: Edward II and Edward III 


13 30s was largely confined to those northern magnates who had hopes of 
regaining lands beyond the northern border. The French war theoretically 
appealed to a wider group. But the need to provide strong defensive measures 
in England, coupled with the lack of military action on the continent before 
1340, meant that relatively few of the earls and barons were actively involved 
in die first phase of the Hundred Years War. The resulting breakdown in 
communications between the domestic administration and the war party on 
the continent undoubtedly explains the political rupture in the parliament of 
April 1341, when the earls of Surrey, Arundel and Huntingdon chose to 
support the leader of the regency council, Archbishop John Stratford, in his 
appeal against a series of arbitrary charges heaped on him by the increasingly 
frustrated king. In the negotiations that followed, Edward was forced to 
concede a statute guaranteeing that the nobility of the realm should be tried 
only before their peers and that the great officers of the realm should be 
appointed and dismissed in parliament. Once again, the failure of foreign 
policy and the growth of baronial opposition had combined to thwart the 
ambitions of the crown. 

It would be a mistake, however, to exaggerate die rift between die king and 
tire magnates in 1341. It had taken Edward II eleven years to defeat his aristo- 
cratic opponents and bring down the Ordinances. It took Edward III only six 
months to effect a working compromise with the aristocracy and secure dieir 
consent to the revocation of the statute of 1341. Once the king abandoned the 
ruinously expensive diplomatic policy of the late 1330s and showed that he was 
prepared to accept the advice of the magnates on military strategy, personal 
quarrels and even clashes of principle could easily be forgotten. The upturn in 
military fortunes during die 1340s removed most misgivings over the wisdom 
of the French and Scottish wars, and linked the aristocracy’s fortunes inextri- 
cably with the king’s foreign adventures. The widespread adoption of contracts 
for military service in the 1340s offered the nobility the opportunity for real 
financial gain by guaranteeing them wages and offering diem a share in the 
ransoms and plunder that were such an important feature of medieval warfare. 
Above all, the king’s wars offered the magnates a chance to demonstrate their 
duty to the realm and their loyalty to the dirone by pursuing the natural activ- 
ity of their class, the profession of arms. In 1348 the king institutionalised the 
martial ethos of his court by founding the Order of the Garter, one of the ear- 
liest monarchical orders of chivalry. In 1352 he offered another very powerful 
signal of reconciliation in the Statute of Treasons, which defined and limited 
the charges of high and petty treason and guaranteed that die nobility would 
not be subject to the dubious charges and summary justice suffered by so many 
of their number during the 1320s. Thus was the English aristocracy united in 
enthusiastic and energetic support of the crown. 

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The happy conditions of the mid-fourteenth century did not, and probably 
could not, last for ever. By the time the French war resumed in 1369, many of 
Edward Ill’s closest friends and ablest commanders were dead, and die new 
group of aristocratic generals that emerged in the 1370s lacked the powerful 
esprit de corps that had characterised their fathers’ generation. From the later 
1 3 50s the range of royal patronage had also declined, as Edward had become 
more and more preoccupied with the needs of his own sons. 27 Unfortunately, 
the attempt to use the royal family as a kind of court party collapsed with the 
deaths of Princes Lionel and Edward in 1368 and 1376 and the emergence of 
the unpopular John of Gaunt as the king’s principal spokesman. The real 
centre of politics in the mid- 13 70s lay not in baronial great councils but in a 
narrow clique of courtiers led by the steward, Lord Neville, the chamberlain, 
Lord Latimer, and die king’s mistress, Alice Perrers. They controlled access to 
the elderly king, and were suspected of dubious financial dealings as well as die 
more usual offence of manipulating royal patronage. Although they benefited 
far less from their position than had Gaveston, the Despensers or even William 
Montague, they proved convenient targets for the increasingly disaffected 
political community, and in the Good Parliament of 1376 they, along with a 
number of their contacts from die world of commerce, were impeached, dis- 
missed from office and banished from the household. 

For the high aristocracy, the reign of Edward III therefore ended in uncer- 
tainty and disillusionment. The Good Parliament exposed rifts even within the 
royal family, as the Princes Edmund and Thomas deserted their brother John 
of Gaunt and sided with the opposition. Nevertheless, the picture of disunity 
can be too sharply drawn. The aristocratic groupings of the 1370s were still a 
great deal more fluid than they had been at almost any time in Edward Ill’s 
reign, and the baronage was to show much greater cohesion in die regency 
administration of Richard II than it had during the minority of Edward III. 
The most striking fact of all is the complete absence of armed rebellion against 
the crown between 1330 and 1377. Edward II had lived almost permanendy 
under the threat of military opposition, and within litde more than a decade of 
Edward Ill’s death the magnates would again be in active revolt against the 
monarchy of Richard II. The intervening years marked probably the longest 
period of political harmony between crown and aristocracy in the whole of the 
Middle Ages, an achievement that surely deserves to rank high among Edward 
Ill’s many political accomplishments. 

The aristocracy may have been the main influence on die fortunes of the 
English crown in die fourteenth century, but they were by no means the only 

27 Ormrod (1987a), pp. 408-16. 

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England: Edward II and Edward III 


group to participate in die political process. Indeed, the reigns of Edward II 
and Edward III were marked by a distinct broadening of die political com- 
munity, best illustrated by die development of parliament. Meetings called 
parliaments had been regular events since the time of Henry III. They were 
attended by the king, the principal officers of state and a group of secular and 
ecclesiastical tenants-in-chief, and were intended for the discussion of impor- 
tant matters of policy or controversial judicial cases. From die 1 290s, however, 
die composition of parliaments had changed, as the king more and more fre- 
quently summoned elected representatives of the shires and the towns to 
attend such assemblies. The intention, made specific in Edward I’s famous 
summonses of 1295, was to have every one of the king’s subjects symbolically 
present in parliament; by this means, matters of general import could be pub- 
licised and discussed and the decisions reached could be considered binding 
on the whole realm. 28 In reality, the principal function of the so-called knights 
of the shires and burgesses was to judge the king’s request for money and to 
sanction direct taxes. But they were also empowered to bring written requests 
from their constituents and to use parliament as a great clearing-house for judi- 
cial and administrative business. From these two functions were to spring most 
of the political influence of later medieval parliaments. 

In 1307 the English parliament had yet to harden into an established institu- 
tion. Under Edward II there were still numerous assemblies called parliaments 
which were little more than baronial councils. Even when representatives were 
summoned, parliament was a very different sort of assembly from its later, 
more developed, form. The anonymous Modus Tenendi Parliamentum of c. 
1 321-2 identified six ‘grades’ within parliament: the king, tire spiritual peers, the 
proctors or the lower clergy, the secular peers, tire knights of the shires and the 
representatives of towns. 29 The distinction between the last two grades is par- 
ticularly significant: although Edward III summoned knights and burgesses to 
every parliament held after 1 327, it was not until die later 1330s that die official 
records began to refer to them as a single group called the Commons. At about 
tire same time the clergy largely abandoned parliament, preferring to meet in 
tiieir own convocations. Those few bishops and abbots who continued to 
attend parliament in person were now linked more closely with the earls and 
barons as one estate referred to as the grant‘d or great men. 30 By the start of the 
Hundred Years War parliament can definitely be said to have emerged as a 
bicameral assembly. 

It was the theory and practice of taxation that undoubtedly moulded parlia- 
ment into this final and enduring form. In 1339, for the first time, the Lords 

28 Stubbs, Select Charters, pp. 480—1 . 29 Pronay and Taylor, Parliamentary Texts, pp. 78—9, 91. 

30 Brown (1989), pp. 209—11. 

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and Commons made different responses to the king’s request for an especially 
heavy subsidy: while the peers offered a tenth of the agricultural produce of 
their estates, the knights and burgesses insisted that they should be allowed to 
refer the demand back to their constituents before a decision was taken. 31 Out 
of dais arose a clear demonstration that the baronage could vote taxes only on 
its own members: the Commons alone had the power to grant taxes binding 
on die whole realm. Furthermore, in April 1340 the Commons for the first 
time authorised a levy of the wool subsidy, thus taking over from earlier mer- 
chant assemblies control of the tax that would become the single most impor- 
tant element in the fiscal machinery of die state. It took some time before the 
Commons established exclusive control over indirect taxation, but in 1362 they 
finally won a statutory guarantee that all such levies would be discussed and 
authorised solely in parliament. By the end of Edward Ill’s reign, the king’s 
parliament, and more specifically the Commons in parliament, had become the 
only body with recognised power to impose direct and indirect taxation on die 
generality of the king’s subjects. 

The other principal function of the Commons in early parliaments — that of 
communicating petitions from their constituents - was also subject to impor- 
tant changes and developments during the reigns of Edward II and Edward 
III. By 1307 the officials of central government were keenly aware that die 
mass of private business brought to parliament was threatening to submerge 
them and to hold up business of more general import. Consequendy, attempts 
were made to divert private petitions away from parliament and have them 
dealt with by the chancery and the law courts. Far from putting a stop to die 
petitioning process, however, this rationalisation actually allowed more atten- 
tion to be given to those requests labelled by the clerks of parliament as 
‘common petitions’. The earliest such documents were simply requests from 
private individuals or local communities which happened to raise more general 
issues and which were therefore deemed worthy of discussion before the king 
and council in parliament. Until the 1320s, die knights and burgesses had litde 
active or creative role to play in the selection of common petitions. Indeed, it 
was the barons who continued to speak for the community of the realm, 
drawing up lists of general grievances such as those presented in the parlia- 
ments of Stamford in 1309 and Westminster in 13 io. 32 The vital change seems 
to have occurred in the 1320s, when the knights and burgesses took over this 
responsibility and began to frame requests which were recognised in them- 
selves as common petitions. The change is probably to be explained by the col- 
lapse of baronial opposition after the batde of Boroughbridge and the 
reluctance of any remaining Lancastrian sympathisers to declare dieir hostility 

31 Harriss (1975), p. 2; 5. 32 Tuck (1985), pp. 57-9, 63; but cf. Harriss (1975), p. 120. 

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England: Edward II and Edward III 


to die Despenser regime. That such timidity did not apparently extend to the 
knights and burgesses is a remarkable testimony to their political and social 
independence: indeed, some of the harshest criticisms in the extant common 
petitions of 1324-5 were reserved not for the crown but for the aristocracy. 33 

The Commons’ success in persuading the crown to accept their criticisms 
depended to a large degree on their willingness to grant taxes: the king was much 
more likely to be generous with political concessions if parliament offered him 
financial assistance. The notable failure of most of the extant common petitions 
of 1324-5 can be explained not just by the insensitivity of die Despenser regime 
but also by die fact diat Edward II’s pleas for money were twice rejected in parlia- 
ment during diese years. 34 Under Edward III, die Commons were a good deal 
more forthcoming: indeed, it was not until 1376 diat requests for direct taxation 
were again turned down. The Commons were notably reluctant to make a formal 
link between taxation and redress of grievances. As early as 1309, however, 
parliament had warned the king that his tax collectors would face active resis- 
tance in die shires unless he heard die complaints of his subjects. In reality, dien, 
die discussions of taxation and the framing and audience of common petitions 
were often closely linked. 35 From 1327, and more particularly after 1340, came 
another important change in die way the crown communicated its responses to 
common petitions. The requests accepted by die crown and the remedies pro- 
posed by the council were now formally embodied in statutes and proclaimed in 
die shires as part of die law of the land. Out of their taxative authority and their 
new role as spokesmen of die wider political community, the knights and 
burgesses had dierefore won a role in die making of legislation. 

The Commons’ control over the legislative process should not be exagger- 
ated. It was the members of the king’s council, not the knights and burgesses, 
who still composed the statutes and made provision for their implementation. 
Moreover, statute law, though theoretically binding, was often ignored and 
sometimes openly fiouted by the crown. In the coronation of 1308, Edward II 
had been required to swear a new oath that he would ‘hold and preserve the 
righteous laws and customs which the community of the realm shall have 
chosen’. 36 In practice, however, the king remained free to judge between good 
and bad laws and to annul those which he held to be contrary to the common 
law of the land or injurious to the royal prerogative. It was on these grounds 
that Edward II cancelled the Ordinances in 1322 and Edward III rescinded the 
statute of 1341. The legislative process therefore remained under the general 
supervision of the crown. On sensitive issues involving die limitation of royal 

33 Ormrod (1990a), pp. 19—20. 34 Buck (1983), pp. 252—4. 

35 Harriss (1975), pp. 98—127, provides a full discussion. 

36 SDECH , pp. 4—5: ‘ten ir et garder les leys et les custumes droitureles les quiels la communaute de 

vostre roiaume aura esleu’. 

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prerogatives, indeed, the crown was particularly careful to stress its freedom of 
action. The Statute of Purveyors of 1362 was offered by the king ‘of his own 
will, without motion of tire great men or commons’. 37 Justifications of this 
kind, however, tell their own story: in reality, we know that the parliament of 
1362 saw some hard bargaining over the proposed extension of the wool 
subsidy and some vociferous complaints about the practices of royal purvey- 
ors. 38 Procedural niceties remained, but the reality of politics had moved on. 

The ability of parliament to influence the policies of the crown is perhaps 
best demonstrated by tire changes effected in the administration of justice. The 
abandonment of the eyre after 1294 had created a large gap in the judicial 
system only partly filled by the erratic series of extraordinary commissions, 
nicknamed ‘trailbastons’, launched by Edward I in 1304-5. The result, accord- 
ing to many, was a serious breakdown in public order. Far from rising to the 
challenge, die crown and die aristocracy were believed to be taking personal 
advantage of the situation. In 1317 Sir Gilbert Middleton, a prominent 
Nordiumberland knight, was able to raise a force of over 900 northerners, 
including several members of landed society, in armed rebellion against the 
crown. 39 In the mid-i32os the Despensers appear to have masterminded a 
campaign of corruption, intimidation and legalised robbery that left many of 
their victims in helpless despair. Even after Edward Ill’s impassioned appeal 
to die magnates in 1 3 3 1 to behave with greater integrity, die king continued to 
harbour a number of notorious law breakers, such as Sir John Moleyns and Sir 
Thomas Breadstone, in his own household. The disruptive activities of crim- 
inal gangs also spread from the north into the midlands, where the Folville and 
Coterel families rampaged unchecked for most of the 1330s. 

Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that the parliamentary 
Commons became increasingly critical of the structure and operation of royal 
justice. Crown and Commons broadly agreed that die obvious remedy lay in 
the establishment of a more permanent judicial presence in the localities. The 
obvious candidates for such a job were the keepers of die peace, members of 
the minor landed classes who, since the later thirteenth century, had been 
responsible for receiving indictments and holding suspected criminals until the 
king’s justices arrived in the shire to judge the cases and make convictions. The 
first extant demand for the promotion of the keepers of die peace into jus- 
tices dates from 1327, and it became a regular feature of the Commons’ polit- 
ical programme by die 1340s. 40 But it was only the challenge raised by the Black 
Death that finally persuaded the government of die wisdom and necessity of 

37 Ibid., pp. 83— 4: £ de sa propre volente, sanz mocion des grauntz ou communes’. 

38 Harriss (1975), pp. 505— 6. 39 Middleton (1918); Prestwich (1992). 

40 Putnam (1929), pp. 24—5, 42—3. 

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England: Edward II and Edrnrd III 


such a move. In 1349 and 1351 the crown issued the Ordinance and Statute of 
Labourers to halt the steep rise in wages demanded after the plague. The 
responsibility for enforcing this legislation was handed over to special county 
tribunals made up of local gentry. The experiment was sufficiently successful 
that in 1361—2 the commissioners of the peace were given power not only to 
judge cases brought under the labour laws but also to determine all manner of 
trespasses and felonies committed within their area of jurisdiction. Although 
die power of these new ‘justices of the peace’ was to fluctuate somewhat over 
the next three decades, the broad policy of delegating judicial power to the 
localities was now more or less fixed. The persistence of the parliamentary 
Commons had therefore triumphed and the emergence of the justices of the 
peace could be counted one of their most signal political successes. 

The transformation of parliament into a major political institution under 
Edward II and Edward III therefore represented both an opportunity and a 
threat to the crown. The representative nature of the assembly allowed die king 
to justify and exploit hitherto untapped sources of wealth through direct and 
indirect taxation and to create a remarkably sophisticated and productive system 
of public finance. In die process, however, the king’s subjects were given die 
chance to articulate criticisms and precipitate reforms with an effectiveness that 
had rarely been secured by earlier baronial oppositions. The consequences of 
this new political dialogue were demonstrated forcefully by events in the Good 
Parliament of 1376. 41 For die first time in over fifty years, the Commons refused 
to grant die king a direct tax. Instead, they put forward the longest series of 
Commons petitions yet drawn up, representing a comprehensive indictment of 
die crown’s military and domestic policies. Through their spokesman, Sir Peter 
de la Mare, they made a series of formal accusations against die inner circle of 
courtiers and financiers, forcing John of Gaunt, as the king’s representative, to 
carry through a series of state trials and convictions before die Lords in parlia- 
ment. The Good Parliament was a highly exceptional event, and too much atten- 
tion to its proceedings can dangerously distort our picture of late medieval 
politics. But in a real and significant sense, the assembly of 1376 marked the 
emergence of the Commons as a mature and independent force. The knights 
and burgesses were certainly aware of sympathy for their cause among die 
Lords, but die confident and professional way in which they went about their 
campaign demonstrates the remarkable developments that had occurred since 
die time of Edward II. The English political community had come of age. 

The first three-quarters of the fourteenth century therefore witnessed some 
of the most radical changes ever wrought in the political and administrative 

41 Holmes (1975) for full details. 

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structures of tire English state. To a large extent, the political mood was still 
dictated by the personality of the king. The chronicler Ranulph Higden 
believed that Edward II’s misfortunes arose directly out of his devotion to 
actors and singers, ditchers and dykers, sailors and swimmers, and most espe- 
cially to his first and greatest love, Piers Gaveston. 42 Equally, Thomas 
Walsingham later blamed the military and political reversals of the 1370s on 
the depravity of tire aged Edward III and the sinister influence of Alice 
Perrers. 43 But the chroniclers’ emphasis on moral issues tends to disguise the 
very important institutional developments that had come about during the 
reigns of these two kings. The involvement of the political community in the 
authorisation of taxes from the time of Edward I had given it a valuable oppor- 
tunity to influence the general direction of much of the crown’s domestic and 
foreign policy. Edward II neglected the wider implications of this develop- 
ment; indeed, by the 1320s his regime was wilfully ignoring even the basic prin- 
ciples of political dialogue and ruling in a manner that threatened to disrupt 
the lives of many of his subjects. The real novelty of Edward Ill’s regime lay 
in its decision to extend the traditions of counsel and consent and accommo- 
date not only the aristocracy but also the minor landholders and merchants 
represented by the Commons in parliament. Through this process of political 
negotiation, the king’s subjects probably became better informed of public 
affairs than ever before. 44 They also developed higher expectations of public 
service and greater confidence in the crown’s ability to defend their rights and 
interests. Out of this attitude sprang both the hope, and the disillusionment, 
of late-medieval English politics. 

42 Higden, Polychronicon , vm, p. 298. 43 Walsingham, Historia Anglicana, 1, p. 328. 

44 Maddicott (197 8), pp. 27-43. 

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CHAPTER I 3 (b) 


Caroline M. Barron 


richard ii slipped quietly into his kingship although Inis reign was to end 
much more decisively. Richard became obsessed, in a way that Edward III had 
not been, with the fate of his great-grandfather who had been deposed and 
murdered in 1327. In his attempts to prevent history from repeating itself, 
Richard provoked his great magnates into taking exacdy that course which he 
most feared. Yet, in spite of their comparable ends, the reigns of Edward II 
and Richard II were very different. Unlike his great-grandfather, Richard had 
a strong character which included some attractive attributes such as bravery 
and loyalty. Moreover he developed and pursued policies which had long-term 
objectives and made sense nationally as well as personally. But Richard also 
lacked certain qualities which were essential for medieval kings: he did not 
enjoy real war and he got on badly with the English nobility as a group, 
although he was able to develop individual friendships with some of them. He 
was not ‘one of the lads’ in a way that Edward I or Edward III had been, nor 
as Henry IV and Henry V were to be later, and he had a suspicious and secre- 
tive nature which bred unease and insecurity in those around him. Medieval 
monarchy depended for its success upon the abilities of individual kings: the 
institution of kingship was not yet sufficiently developed to carry incompetent 
kings. Richard II had the wrong abilities for his inherited task. But he was not 
a cipher and his undoubted qualities, even if inappropriate to medieval king- 
ship, lend a distinctive character to the last quarter of the fourteenth century 
in England. 

In looking at a particular reign, the historian is simply holding a frame over 
a section of the microfilm of English history. The frame helps to focus atten- 
tion. How is the section between 1377 and 1399 different from other sections? 
The series of confrontations between the king and his nobility were not novel 
although they took new forms. But these are not the only conflicts that crowd 


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into the Ricardian frame: the great popular rising in 1381; die attacks of John 
Wyclif and his ‘Lollard’ followers on the practices and doctrines of the Church 
in England; the rise of a wealdiy and intensely competitive merchant class in 
London and other English towns; the development of the Commons in parlia- 
ment as the voice of the financial (and other) interests of the urban and gentry 
‘middle classes’ and the meteoric expansion in die use of written English, not 
only as the language of entertainment and enlightenment but also as die lan- 
guage of business and politics. Endemic plague since 1348 had kept the 
population within its means of subsistence and a rise in real wages ensured a 
higher standard of living for a considerable proportion of the shrunken 
population. Men and women had more money and more leisure to develop 
new skills, to move around die country and to challenge the accepted orders. 
Churches, guildhalls and great houses were built in the quintessentially English 
Perpendicular Style and webs of tracery were woven across the stone walls of 
medieval England. These walls sometimes supported the exuberant intricacies 
of fan vaults, found, for example, in the new cloister at Gloucester Abbey 
(1351-77). The reign of Richard II coincided in England with a period of 
opportunity, competition and experiment. 


The reign of Richard II is particularly well documented. As for earlier reigns, 
there are the great runs of die records of the exchequer, chancery and judici- 
ary. A novelty is die journal of the royal council kept by John Prophet, die 
king’s secretary, in the 1390s. 1 To complement the records of central govern- 
ment, local institutions were beginning to keep their own records more system- 
atically: not only the ubiquitous manorial court and account rolls, but die 
administrative records of towns. In London the earliest consecutive series of 
the accounts of guilds begin in the 1390s (Mercers, Taylors, Grocers and 
Goldsmiths) and wills survive in much greater numbers from die last quarter 
of die fourteenth century. 

The reign is also well served by its chroniclers. 2 Monastic chroniclers were par- 
ticularly busy. Apart from Thomas Walsingham who wrote from the well-estab- 
lished scriptorium of St Albans Abbey, Henry Knighton took up his pen in die 
abbey of St Mary in die Fields, Leicester, and a monk at Westminster, perhaps 
Richard Exeter, wrote an account of the years to 1394 which is especially infor- 
mative about events at die centre. There are also a number of shorter chronicles 
of particular interest such as the Anonimalle Chronicle written in Anglo-Norman 
and providing distinctive, if not necessarily first-hand, accounts of die Good 

1 Printed in Baldwin (191$), pp. 489— 504. 2 See Martin (1997a). 

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The reign of Richard II 


Parliament of 1376 and the revolt of 1381. At die end of the reign Adam Usk 
wrote a vivid account of Henry Bolingbroke’s usurpation and of the fall of 
Richard II. The last years of die reign are also covered, albeit fitfully, by a small 
cluster of chronicles from northern Cistercian houses, Whalley, Dieulacres and 
Kirkstall. Events in England moreover attracted the attention of writers across 
die Channel. Jean Froissart was well informed about some aspects of the rising 
of 1381 from talking with foreign lords who were in Richard’s entourage, and he 
himself visited England in 1 3 9 5 , 3 Odier Frenchmen who were in England in the 
late 1 3 90s wrote dramatic accounts of die betrayal and death of Richard. 4 
Moreover in Richard’s reign a new kind of chronicle makes its appearance, the 
‘London chronicle’ distinguished by the division of events by mayoral, rather 
than regnal, years and by the use of English. 5 

Literary sources are abundant, some written in Latin, others in Anglo- 
Norman but many, and increasingly, in English. The writings of Geoffrey 
Chaucer, William Langland, John Gower, the author of Sir Gamin and the Green 
Knight and even of the convoluted Thomas Usk can all add to our perceptions 
and understandings of the priorities of men and women in the late fourteenth 
century. A new audience was emerging comprised of die gentry, the mer- 
chants, the artisans and the professional classes of lawyers and doctors. Few 
documents survive from the personal archives of men and women of these 
classes: some household accounts, a single merchant’s account book and a few 
letters. 6 Exiguous as these records are they help to throw light on lives which 
were lived out of the public eye. The impact of events at the centre can some- 
times be assessed, and women who were not queens or princesses begin to find 
a place within the frame and to speak. 

the inheritance: royal government in commission, 


Richard of Bordeaux was not born to be king: he was third in the line of 
succession. At his birth in 1367, his father, die famous warrior, Edward, the 
Black Prince, was alive and well, and Richard had an elder brother, also 
Edward, who was four years older than he was. Butin 1371 everything changed: 
his brother died, his father became ill and the family left Bordeaux for England. 
Now Richard was to be groomed for kingship. 

In England die great days of Edward Ill’s reign were past. The Treaty of 
Bretigny in 1 3 60 had marked the highwater point of English success in the war 

3 See Stow (198;). 4 See Palmer (1978— 9). 

5 E.g. The Great Chronicle of London, ed. Thomas and Thornley; Chronicles of London , ed. Kingsford. 

6 Household Accounts, ed. Woolgar; James (1956); Rickert (1926—7); Walker (1991). 

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with France. Now die newly conquered French lands were slipping out of 
English control in spite of die great chevauchees of J ohn of Gaunt and his broth- 
ers. Worse still, die French were beginning to make retaliatory raids on die 
English south coast, attacking Rye and destroying a large part of Winchelsea. 
Following die death of his wife, Philippa of Hainault, in 1369, Edward sought 
solace in the arms of Alice Perrers, the wife of Sir William Windsor. Edward, 
now in his late fifties, seems to have become senile or, at any rate, uninterested 
in matters of state to which he had been devoting his attention for over forty 
years. Since the Black Prince was incapacitated by illness, the task of running 
the business of the realm fell largely, if not entirely, to Edward’s third son, John 
of Gaunt. The bedchamber style of government is graphically portrayed by 
the evidence given in Richard’s first parliament by a number of the late king’s 
courtiers. It is clear that Edward, confined to his bed, was inappropriately 
infiuenced by Alice Perrers who became a powerful force behind die throne. 7 

The Commons in the parliament of 1376 (known as the ‘Good Parliament’), 
led by Peter de la Mare, a shire knight from Herefordshire, mounted a sus- 
tained attack on those whom diey considered to be lining their own pockets at 
the national expense. De la Mare was the steward of Edmund, diird earl of 
March, the king’s lieutenant in Ireland and the husband of Philippa, the only 
child of Edward Ill’s second son, Lionel, duke of Clarence. Their two sons, 
Roger (b. 1374) and Edmund (b. 1376), were the presumptive heirs to die 
English throne after Richard became king (see p. 8 86). 8 Those impeached in 
the Good Parliament included Lord Latimer, die royal chamberlain, a cluster 
of nouveaux riches London merchants and a couple of captains left over from 
the great days in France who were accused of selling English garrison casdes 
to the French. John of Gaunt did his best to defend Latimer from attack and 
to uphold die integrity of royal policy. Those who were found guilty were 
either imprisoned or fined, but diey were not accused of treason and they were 
not executed. All were released within months. By comparison with the parlia- 
mentary trials later in Richard’s reign, the Good Parliament was a very gende- 
manly affair. The attacks, however, served to check the self-interested 
behaviour of the royal courtiers, and they demonstrated the potential of parlia- 
ment as a forum for political debate. The 1376 parliament witnessed the 
development of the judicial process of impeachment which, while it could not 
fashion royal policy, could be used to criticise that policy, and it was in this 
parliament that the Commons chose one man to act as their spokesman for the 
entire parliament who became known as die Speaker. 9 The disgrace of the 

7 Rot. Pari., hi, pp. 12—14. 

8 But see the recently discovered document drawn up in 1376 in which Edward III appears to have 

excluded from the succession his heirs through the female line in favour of the male children of his 
surviving sons, Bennett (1998), p. 591. 9 Roskell (1965). 

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The reign of Richard II 

3 QI 

London merchants, Adam Bury, John Pecche and Richard Lyons, led to their 
ejection from office as aldermen of London and this, in turn, provoked a full- 
scale revision of the way in which the city of London was governed. 10 These 
changes, which included die annual election of all aldermen, introduced a 
period of extreme instability into London’s government. Factions fought, not 
in die courts but on die streets, and the ‘smale people’ began to have dieir say. 1 1 

Although John of Gaunt had managed to reverse most of the acts of the 
Good Parliament, yet there remained a vacuum at the centre of government 
where die commanding figure of the monarch should have held sway. The 
Black Prince died at Kennington in June 1376 and Edward III finally 
abandoned his life on 22 June 1377. Richard, a willowy, attractive boy of eleven 
became king on the eve of the vigil of the birthday of St John the Baptist. Since 
he had been born at the feast of the Epiphany, which was celebrated as the day 
when John had baptised Christ, Richard throughout his life considered himself 
to have a special relationship with die saint, to whom he was particularly 
devoted and whom he considered to be his special protector. 12 

It was extremely important that the young king should be crowned and that the 
ceremony should be impressive. It is not clear who master-minded this event: 
perhaps it was Richard’s tutor, Guichard d’ Angle who had been chosen for his son 
by the Black Prince, or, more probably, Sir Simon Burley, who succeeded d’ Angle 
as Richard’s tutor. Not only was the ceremonial for Richard’s coronation different 
from that of earlier coronations, but the event was carefully recorded. In fact 
Richard’s coronation is the first to be fully described by a contemporary chroni- 
cler. 13 It has been suggested that ‘The most significant changes in the pageant were 
the absence of the forms of secular election prior to the procession to the cathe- 
dral (sic), a probable alteration of the wording of the oath itself, and the emphasis 
on obedience to the king as lay lord.’ 14 In the course of the long ceremonies 
Richard himself seems to have fallen asleep and had to be carried back to the 
Palace by Sir Simon Burley who did not stop long enough in the Abbey to remove 
the precious royal regalia, as a result of which one of the consecrated coronation 
shoes, said to have been worn by King Alfred, fell off in the crowds and was lost. 15 
In spite of his fatigue, the coronation seems to have made a great impression on 
the young king: he believed that he had been set apart from other men and placed 
under the direct and special protection of St Edward the Confessor. 16 Later in his 
reign, Richard would on occasion take visitors, such as the king of Armenia in 
1386, to see the royal insignia ‘quibus olim fuerat coronatus’. 17 

10 Barron (1981). 

11 The phrase ‘smale people’ is used by Thomas Usk in his 1388 appeal, A Book of London English , ed. 

Chambers and Daunt, p. 25. 12 Gordon (1993), pp. 5 5—7. 

13 Munimenta Gildhallae, ed. Riley, 11, pp. 456—82. 14 Jones (1968), p. 1 5. 

15 West. Chron., pp. 41 5— 17. 16 Gordon (1993), pp. 54-5. 17 West. Chron., pp. 156-7. 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 



Once the king had been crowned, it was necessary for the kingdom to be 
governed, but Richard seems to have been slow to take on the tasks of king- 
ship. 18 At Christmas, following his coronation, the citizens of London enter- 
tained him with a pageant of mummers who included esquires, an emperor, a 
pope and cardinals. They played games with him using dice loaded in his favour 
so that he ‘did alwayes winne when hee cast them’. In this way he ‘won’ a gold 
bowl, cup and ring. 19 The festivities may have been fun, but they provided 
an unrealistic introduction to die business of kingship. It may have been 
the influence of his modier which led to Richard’s childhood being unusually 
protracted. He was twenty-two before he formally took up the reins of 

Meanwhile, how was the kingdom to be governed during the minority of the 
king? There is no evidence that Edward III had made any provision for this, 
certainly not in his will, although he may have discussed the matter with his 
councillors. The solution arrived at, by whatever means, was to appoint a series 
of governing councils on which a selection of great magnates, bishops and 
working knights and clerks would sit. Obvious interest groups were repre- 
sented: John of Gaunt and his brothers Edmund of Langley, earl of 
Cambridge (later duke of York), and Thomas of Woodstock, earl of 
Buckingham (later duke of Gloucester); some of the household knights of the 
Black Prince representing the interests of Princess Joan, and die ‘radicals’ who 

had challenged the court party in 1376 and maintained a tradition of detached 

• • • 


There were serious problems facing the councils: in particular die defence of 
the kingdom. The English presence in France was dependent upon maintaining 
garrisons in die ‘barbican’ towns of Calais and Cherbourg, and Brest, which lay 
within the duchy of John, duke of Brittany, whose loyalty to England was volatile 
and unreliable, and Bordeaux at die heart of die duchy of Aquitaine. 21 It was 
expensive to maintain these garrisons and humiliating to lose them. The French 
king Charles V (1364-80) was more astute than his predecessors at keeping die 
English armies at bay, and he was well served by his captains Bertrand du 
Guesclin, Olivier de Clisson and Jean de Vienne. These men carried the war on 
to English soil, and die chevauchees mounted by die English in die early years of 
Richard’s reign (e.g. die earl of Arundel’s attack on Harfleur in 1378 and the earl 
of Buckingham’s fruidess siege of Nantes in 1380) were unimpressive and 
largely unsuccessful. The Scots, in alliance widi the French, kept up die pressure 
on die northern border and diereby allowed the Percies, traditional wardens of 
the East March, to maintain their retinues in a state of war (largely at die king’s 

18 Richard was formally presented to parliament in October 1377, Rot. Pari., hi, p. 3. 

19 Stow, Survey of London, 1, pp. 96—7. 20 Lewis (1926). 21 Palmer (1972); Jones (1970). 

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The reign of Richard II 


expense) and to challenge all authority, even that of die duke of Lancaster. 22 The 
policy of die minority councils was to put pressure on the French by mounting 
chevauchees and to make a peace, or at least a truce, with die Scots. But die war had 
broadened out beyond diese two dieatres. Flanders was closely linked in its 
economy with England: it was die major market for English wool, just as 
England was an important market for Flemish clodi (and odier manufactured 
products). The Flemish weaving towns of Ghent, Ypres and Bruges were inhib- 
ited from a full alliance with England by dieir Francophile count, Louis de Male, 
who confirmed his preference by marrying his only daughter and heir, Margaret, 
to Philip of Burgundy, the powerful brother of Charles V, who succeeded to die 
county of Flanders in 1 3 84. The Anglo-French war had also expanded to include 
Castile where rival claimants to the crown sought support from die two pro- 
tagonists. Henry of Trastamara, illegitimate but certainly king (1369-79), allied 
with the French and took the powerful Castilian navy into the war on die French 
side. John of Gaunt’s marriage in 1371 to Constanza, the legitimate claimant to 
die throne, provided a potential, rather than an actual, direat to Henry and his 
son Juan. But John rejoiced in the tide of king of Castile while living off die rev- 
enues of his substantial English estates. Twice in Richard’s reign, in 1381 and 
again in 1386—9, the English mounted extensive military campaigns to fight in 
die Iberian peninsula and, when war failed, marriage alliances carried forward 
die English interests. 2 ’ These campaigns, however, offered no solutions for 
ending die French war. 

Another important task facing the minority councils was to find a suitable 
wife for the young king. Clearly this would be an alliance of die greatest impor- 
tance, and a card which, in all probability, could only be played once. For 
reasons which are not now very clear, the council sought the hand of Anne, 
daughter of the Emperor Charles IV of Bohemia (d. 1378) and the sister of 
Wenceslas IV (1378—1400) king of Bohemia and of die Romans. The political 
purpose of the marriage was to secure a powerful ally against die French, 
together with a substantial dowry and a fecund queen. Anne provided none of 
diese tilings, yet she seems to have been a faithful and sensitive wife who made 
her husband happy, and caused no faction or discord at court. Although the 
Westminster chronicler probably echoed a widely held view when he com- 
mented on the large sum which had been paid out to secure ‘this tiny scrap of 
humanity’, and Thomas Walsingham wrote wistfully of the large dowry which 
would have accompanied a Visconti bride for Richard, yet by the time of her 
death the chroniclers had come to appreciate her gentle and unobtrusive qual- 
ities. 24 The foreign policy of the period 1377-80 could hardly have been 

22 Storey (1957); Tuck (1968); Walker (1991). 23 Russell (195 5). 

24 West. Chron., pp. 23—5; Annales Ricardi Secundi, p. 169; see Saul (1997a), pp. 45 5—7. 

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considered as a triumph either of war or diplomacy: short-term truces with 
Scodand, a useless marriage alliance, the loss of English influence and markets 
in Flanders, the expensive maintenance of English toe-holds in France and two 
unsuccessful, if not indeed disastrous, raids into northern France. It was a bad 
hand, badly played. 

But the minority councils had other concerns. They had to maintain a 
balance between the rival interests of the magnates, for ultimately the well- 
being of die realm depended upon such a balance. How was patronage to be 
dispensed in the absence of an individual royal will? The wealth and intiuence 
of John of Gaunt were widely resented and suspected. What role was to be 
played byjoan of Kent and the household of knights whom she had inherited 
from the Black Prince: men of ability and intiuence such as Sir Richard Stury, 
Sir Simon Burley or Sir John Wroth? But as the magnates josded around the 
edges of the vacuum, anodier much more serious threat to royal authority was 
gathering in the villages and manors of England. 


The sharp decline in die overall population of England following the Black 
Death of 1 348-9 had dislocated the English economy. The great lay and eccle- 
siastical landlords had not been impoverished by these changes, but the sharp 
decline in population had certainly shifted die economic advantage to die 
labourer. In spite of legislation which aimed to restore the status quo ante , there 
was an inexorable rise in die cost of labour and a rather less marked rise in 
prices. In consequence, the wage labourer, both male and female, was more 
prosperous than ever before. The unfree labourer chafed now at constraints 
which in a period of overpopulation might have provided some security, but 
now served only to constrain economic opportunity. The great landlords had 
to use ingenuity, and sometimes force, to maintain their customary levels of 
income from their estates. In towns skilled labour was at a premium, there was 
plenty of work and more money to spend. The ‘small people’ could, and did, 
make their voices heard. 

The revolt of 1381 was the culmination of a series of local protests and 
contiicts between workers and their landlords. 25 The activities of the local JPs 
in enforcing the labour legislation obviously aggravated hostility to central, as 
well as local, government policies. It used to be thought that the revolt was the 
spontaneous and angry response not only to smouldering resentment against 
villeinage but also to die heavy taxation of the 1370s and in particular, to the 
novel poll taxes of 1377, 1379 and 1380 which aimed to tax the newly rich wage 

25 Hilton (1962); Faith (1984). 

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The reign of Richard II 


labourers and to spread the burden of taxation more evenly, if not more fairly, 
among the population at large. Taxation may have triggered the rising, but 
recent research has shown that the revolt was highly organised and well co- 
ordinated. 26 It was not a spontaneous rising of an angry peasantry. It was, 
moreover, led by men of standing in their local communities: jurymen, bailiffs 
and stewards. 27 The frightened monastic chroniclers portrayed the rebels as 
little better than animals, braying and inarticulate. But, in fact, in the villages of 
south-east England, where the revolt was fed and nurtured, literacy was much 
more widespread and access to writing more common than the chroniclers 
were willing to recognise. 28 The newly rich were also, often, the newly literate. 
Old Clement Paston (d. 141 9), a bondman of the manor of Paston in Norfolk, 
sent his son William, born three years before the rising, to school. 29 Letters cir- 
culated among the